Some things don’t turn out to be what you intended them to be. They turn out the way they were meant to be.
In the early spring of 2002, I sat in a public library cubicle facing my blank computer screen. I was overwhelmed with the daunting goal of writing my first book. It was Day 1 on the project. So much had happened in the prior 6 months … 9/11, the first bankruptcy of United Airlines, the tumble of the Dot.com era, Enron and the related implosion of Arthur Andersen.
I arrived at the public library with a rough, but well thought-out, outline of a book titled Our Dream at Risk. I also arrived with a goal of sitting in that library for four hours to begin writing the manuscript of that book. It was going to be a hard-hitting business book for leaders. In recent weeks, there had been a lot in the news about business. And not much of it was good. While the media’s coverage was focused on a couple of organizations, I knew the issue they covered was not isolated to those selected. It was a pervasive issue for all of us. The “dream” referred to in the title of this “to-be” book was the American Dream. And the dream was at risk!
Some dreams are defined as nightmares. As I sat in the library cubicle thinking of recent events, it felt a bit like a nightmare. Quietly I thought about that, perusing the rough outline and searching for how to begin. Much more than a nightmare …
It felt like a train wreck. Sudden impact.
Lost for a place to begin, I simply started typing a little story to get this business book started. It was simple in structure, short in length, and to the point: Jack oversleeps, panics because he is running late to work on a Sunday morning, rushes to get ready and depart … and then tries to “safely” beat a train that is coming from the left, but is slammed by the tons of steel that he doesn’t see coming from the right.
I was just trying to begin the narrative with an impactful point that we are headed towards a train wreck in business if we didn’t change something.
And then it hit me. This wasn’t just a little example to get this business book started. It was the beginning of a story that was to be the whole book. My strategic business book and the rough outline that supported it began to unravel in my mind’s eye as I mentally stood amongst the wreckage of Jack’s train wreck which I had just created with a multitude of keystrokes.
It took me back to sitting on the edge of a bed in a Denver hotel just weeks before. I was watching the CNN coverage of the indictment of Arthur Andersen. In the heartbreak of it all, I had wondered if we would learn anything. I wasn’t thinking of the employees of Arthur Andersen learning something, I was thinking of all of us learning something. There was more to the story than what the media realized.
And there was more to the story of a train wreck filling my computer screen.
Both represented a wake-up call with a question. Will you learn something … or hit the snooze and go back to sleep? The only way I would know if Jack could learn something from his train wreck was to keep writing and see.
In November 2005, the story was completed and released as Silent Alarm.
Ten years later, on this Thanksgiving Day, I’m grateful to the thousands who have taken the time to read Silent Alarm. I’m also grateful for the times when I’ve had a chance to catch a glimpse of how a reader chose to embrace a wake-up call that the story stirred within them.
The hard-hitting business book, Our Dream at Risk, was never published because it was never written. It was never meant to be. It was a message focused on organizational change. Organizations are like the train to Jack’s left. They are not the problem. The problem comes from the right … right within us. It is precisely where every meaningful organizational change begins.
Like Jack experienced in his own train wreck, sometimes we don’t see it coming. We have to pay closer attention to the alarms in our life … because some of the most important are hard to hear. Many are even silent.
It was a lesson I learned sitting at a public library cubicle. Sometimes you have to abandon what you set-out to create when you wake-up to what was meant to be. Ten years later, I’m glad I did.
Today, I celebrate every single reader who engaged with the book to make it meaningful. It is with each of them in mind that I say …
Happy 10th Anniversary Silent Alarm.