Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Three Cups of Tea

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson, is a great account of Mortenson's experiences in Afghanistan. He got separated from his guide during a mountain climbing expedition and wound up, sick and lost, in a small town where the people wanted a school. What follows in the book seems to be his account of building that school and several others. When I read it the first time, I thought it should be required reading for the U.S. State Department as a primer on how to do business in that region. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, General David Petraeus read the book and sought out Mortenson's advice on how the military can work with village elders and leaders. Mortenson is quoted as saying this is a positive move for the military.
One of the significant kernels of wisdom in Mortenson's book comes from the elder of that first village who told him never do business until you have shared three cups of tea with the people you want to do business with. It occurs to me that this is just plain good advice for a lot of situations.
I've been a bit immersed in an adult education offering for my church that offers participants experience discussing political positions in an environment of civility. As we share those things that have formed our values, political and religious, we become friends and develop respect for each other and the many things that contribute to our opinions. I've gone to church with some of these people for about seven years now, been in Bible studies with them, sung in choir with them, even attended potlucks with them, but I never understood them or appreciated them so much as I do now having heard about their grandparents, learning the core values their parents taught them, getting at the root of what has formed and informed their views. We have commonalities we would have never known had we not shared our earliest memories of right and wrong. The class has been one version of sharing the three cups of tea.
I spend a week each September with people who consult in organizational development and project management and such. We spend our mornings in sessions sharing our professional expertise and knowledge. I respect these people as international experts in their fields because of what I hear from them in the sessions. In the afternoons, we hike, bike, play scrabble in the lobby or just veg out in the lobby with our books and knitting and conversation. One night we make pizza together, taught by one of us who honed his skills in culinary school and whose sideline hobby is consulting for pizza restaurants. Two of our number travel the country indulging their hobby of pyrotechnics. They taught us to make sparklers. Our pizza expert also seeks to break records for bubbles -- the largest, the longest lasting, etc. He's taught us the secret formula for bubble solution and, most mornings, we wake up to huge bubbles floating over the parking lot of our hotel. I respect these people, as I said, for their professional knowledge, but it is in the sharing of the other things, the games, the bubbles, the communal meals, that I build my trust and personal respect for these people. I recommend them to my clients, not so much because of that professional expertise though they are among the best in their fields in the world, but because of the trust built in the afternoons and evenings. Those are the "cups of tea" that make such a difference.
I'm thinking I want to drink more tea, build more personal trust with those around me. How about you?

1 comment:

  1. I recently gave this book as a gift to a friend and purchased my own copy. So far I haven't had the opportunity to read it as yet...but it is in the queue.