The Despair Of Dogma

The earliest accounts of the unicorn appear not in Greek mythology, as is commonly thought, but in writings on natural history, the unicorn being widely accepted as a real animal. An Alexandrian merchant of the 6th century, Indicopleustes, recorded as fact reports of the animal’s characteristics and behaviour having seen and enquired upon brass figurines in the palace of the King of Ethiopia. Leonardo da Vinci, when he was not inventing helicopters and leaving inspiration for an as-yet-unimagined Dan Brown, even wrote matter-of-factly in his notebook of the method of ensnaring a unicorn with a sleeping virgin, seemingly convinced of its existence.

Just this past week, scientists from Conservation International reported that they had found what they thought to be 60 new species of animal in the tropical rainforests of Suriname. In 2009 researchers described and named 19,232 species new to science. This took the number of known species on Earth to just under two million. The new discoveries, representing a 5.6% rise from the previous year, included:
7 new birds; 41 mammals; 120 reptiles; 148 amphibians; 314 fish; 626 crustaceans; 9,738 insects

A researcher was quoted as saying: “A reasonable guess is that 10 million additional plant and animal species await discovery by scientists and amateur species explorers.” It’s thought that they’re finding them at a pace about twice the overall historic average. All of which holds out a modicum of hope for those who fervently hope for unicorns to be a real creature rather than the mythic beasts of yore. Especially when you consider that one of the finds of 2009 was a 100kg antelope. Not something you would miss that easily you’d think.

A similarly fervent hope drives those of us concerned with the search for a better approach to the world of work. It seems to me that we’re in the early stages of a new Age, one of Enlightened Renaissance. Creative sceptics are challenging the dogmatic practices of the recent past. We’re deconstructing the physical and cultural barriers that are obstacles to creativity, innovation and collaboration. We are recognising the need for choice, flexibility and personalisation. Tools are appearing that accelerate the sharing of knowledge, thought and opinions (and mildly amusing cat pictures). We’re questioning received wisdom, but it is not an unthinking query. It is a questing with solutions proffered. And those solutions hold out hope to others.

There’s a quote I love from the 1986 film, Clockwise, starring John Cleese. His character, uber-organised, is beset by disaster as he attempts to travel to a Headmaster’s Conference to give a keynote address. At one point, feeling utterly defeated, he says to the schoolgirl he has co-opted to drive him there, “It’s not the despair, Laura. I can take the despair. It’s the hope I can’t stand.” Hope is hard. Hope is hostage to other people’s agendas and ingrained groupthink. It is battered by corporate inertia and often by outright hostility to change. It is the seed that falls on the barren ground of compliance and over-cautious management, protective of the status quo. To counter Cleese’s line from Clockwise, there is this, from Jules Verne, “While there is life there is hope. I beg to assert…that as long as a man’s heart beats, as long as a man’s flesh quivers, I do not allow that a being gifted with thought and will can allow himself to despair.” We have the thoughts and the will to change work for the better. We hold that hope in ourselves and we each of us have a responsibility to make that hope manifest in not allowing others to despair of a better way of going about their working lives. Of leading and inspiring with hope. And with love.



  1. Making me think of the “unicorn speech” in Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead:

    A man breaking his journey between one place and another at a third place of no name, character, population, or significance, sees a unicorn cross his path and disappear. That in itself is startling, but there are precedents for mystical encounters of various kinds, or to be less extreme, a choice of persuasions to put it down to fancy; until – ‘My God,’ says a second man, ‘ I must be dreaming, I thought I saw a unicorn.’ At which point a dimension is added that makes the experience as alarming as it will ever be. A third witness, you understand, adds no further dimension but only spreads it thinner, and a fourth thinner still, and the more witnesses there are the thinner it gets and the more reasonable it gets until it is as thin as reality, the name we give to the common experience . . . . ‘Look, look!’ recites the crowd. ‘A horse with an arrow in its forehead! It must have been mistaken for a deer.’

  2. A great piece of uplifting advice. Change, rather like carrying a large Persian carpet, is very hard to do alone. It is only if we help each other to bear the load that the journey towards a better working environment will be achieved and, often, it is much more fun doing things together.

  3. I worked for The Wellcome Foundation whose symbol was a unicorn. One of the best companies on the planet and who taught me never to accept anything as the best possible effort.

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