I was in tears re-reading Dee Hock’s account of the efforts to create an international banking organisation now known as VISA. His own passionate commitment had helped to take the process so far, but then an impasse was reached when certain people were not felt to be operating contructively and openly. It looked like the effort was going to end in failure. At that point Hock reflected about what had helped “such a complex, diverse group over insurmountable obstacles”. It was that “at critical moments, all participants had felt compelled to succeed. And at those same moments, all had been willing to compromise.”
In the teeth of failure a plan was hatched. A fine jeweller was asked to create a set of cufflinks for each member of the organising committee. On one half of the committee was inscribed, in Latin, “the will to succeed” set around half of the earth. The other half of the cufflink was inscribed “the will to succeed” set around the other half of the earth. The cuff links were presented at a slap up meal on the final evening of the conference which seemed to be heading for failure. Here’s what Dee Hock said to them:
“We wanted to give you something that you could keep for the remainder of your life as a reminder of this day.” He then explains the gift, saying “We meet tomorrow for the final time to disband the effort after an arduous two years. There is no possibility of agreement. As organising agent, we have one last request. Will you please wear your cufflinks to the meeting in the morning? When we part, each of us will take them with us as a reminder for the remainder of our lives that the world can never be united through us because we lack the will to succeed and the grace to compromise. But, if by some miracle, our differences dissolve before morning, this gift will remind us to the day we die that the world was united because we had the will to succeed and the grace to compromise.”
There was silence which was shattered by one member exclaiming “You miserable b…….!” at which the room dissolved in laughter. Members did arrive to the morning’s meeting wearing their cufflinks. Within one hour agreement was reached on every issue – and a few months later the international organisation (which was to become VISA International) came into being.