The World's Shortest Poem
One sunny July day in a fine building on Carlton House Terrace overlooking The Mall, a senior manager, Paul from Portugal, told me about the world’s shortest poem, because he felt it encapsulated in a nutshell our exploration of how collaboration actually works. So here it is!
Paul was in a group of 15 people who had been simulating a living system by standing and moving, to a position equi-distant from two moving colleagues. It gave them a chance as leaders to reflect on how they influence others not as static objects waiting for orders, but as living, feeling, sense-making people who are themselves in constant movement.
Now to the poet, Muhammed Ali, a world champion boxer, who while addressing a Harvard graduating class heard a student shouting through the applause: “Give us a poem!”. The crowd quieted, and Ali said “ME…WE!”. These two words are now known as the world’s shortest poem. Some say Ali expressed said: “Me. Whee!”: meaning “I am the greatest!”. But others notice he had just urged the graduates to go out and change the world, confident in their power to bring about change, as individuals contributing to the larger group.
Ali’s beliefs captured in Forbes Magazine in 1999 corroborate this: “It was a lonely process… the title stripped from me, then won back, lost, and won again. But what I gained was… the ability to see that there is only one time and one place and one person and one truth, and that we are all contained in that time and place and person. We may find it convenient to give numbers and names to things in the world, but that is like counting the drops in the ocean or classifying the leaves on a tree. The beauty of the ocean and the tree remains wondrous nonetheless, and filled with God’s glory…the fingers, young and old, can reach out and discover it anew each day.”
It is this second interpretation that Paul noticed in the living system simulation, and here I find excitement about the potential of the new open workplace.
So neatly do those two words “Me We” summarise the principle of collaboration that it makes me smile!