My husband and I recently spent a few weeks abroad. While we were touring Berlin, Germany, we saw the popular tourist attractions including the remainder of the Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, the Berlin Cathedral and more. While each of these sites helped us learn about the city’s history, it was the Holocaust Memorial that most stirred our emotions and led to a time of reflection.
The Holocaust Memorial was designed by American Architect Peter Eisenman. The Memorial is comprised of 2711 gray concrete slabs. Each block is different: a different width, a different height, a different length or a different angle. By design, no two blocks are alike. The architect was purposeful in building this memorial with one-of-a kind structures. To the architect, the blocks were symbolic of the 3 million Jewish victims who were killed during the Holocaust. While these human beings were barbarically killed en masse, we should never forget that each of these individuals had a different story.
How easy it is for us to categorize others into large, impersonal groups. Let’s think about the example of immigrants seeking to enter our nation. What if literal or figurative walls had precluded our own predecessors from coming into America at a time when they longed for a better life for their families? Every family has a different story.
From a business perspective, what about your customers? Depending upon your particular line of business, have you categorized your customers into a handful of prototypes? What opportunities do you have to better meet the needs of your customers if you could understand how their circumstances vary? Yes, customers have different stories to share.
I remember on multiple occasions challenging our employees to understand that patients were never to be viewed as numbers (such as the 225th patient on a given day in a particular department). Every patient was one-of-a-kind. Every patient had come from different environments. Every patient’s health status was unique. Every patient had differing degrees of support from families or friends. Some patients had positive attitudes while others did not. Because of the different experiences and circumstances of our patients, our staff found that some individuals were “easier to love” than others. Yet, even the most challenging patients were treated with ultimate caring and kindness as though they were the only individuals in our world. Yes, every patient had a different story.
With the drive for efficiency and the increasingly important role of technology in delivering value to key stakeholders, how easy it is to view our employees as one collective body. Yet each of our employees also has a different story. When we as leaders can appreciate their differences, we can know how best to relate to them and in so doing, to derive maximum utility from them because they are highly engaged .
As I think about our time in Berlin, I remain dismayed regarding the tragic loss of lives during the Holocaust. And I am grateful for the challenge put forth by the example of this touching Memorial.
May we never forget the significance of every person’s circumstances. May we also be inspired to appreciate that whether we are contemplating a persecuted race, an aspirational immigrant, an everyday customer, a struggling patient, a neighbor, a friend, a family member or even a complete stranger, every person has a different story that needs to be heard.