December 15, 2012
I'm from Woodstock. I Am.

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I'm from Woodstock. Yes, that Woodstock, the famous Woodstock -- the most famous small town in the world, some people say.

Former home to Bob Dylan.

Jimi Hendrix lived here for a summer in the house right across the street from where I live now. John Sebastian still lives here, as do a ton of other musicians, artists, writers, healers, therapists, car mechanics, plumbers, electricians, and just about anyone else you'd expect to live in a small town.

Other than winter lasting six weeks too long, I love Woodstock. I've been a resident for 18 years and I'm proud to call it my home.

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That being said, in the early days of starting up my consulting business, I noticed a curious phenomenon about Woodstock, or at least my relationship to it, whenever a client or prospective client asked me where I was from.

Euphemism-itus.

If I declared myself to be resident of Woodstock, I ran the risk of not only being stereotyped as a counter culture whack job, but being in cahoots with an entire generation of freaks for whom the word "corporation" was second only to "military industrial complex" on the list of buzz kills -- a moment fully capable of leaving my inquisitor with the impression that I was either dangerous, highly unqualified to be of value to their company, or a candidate to be paid in 100 pound bags of chickpeas.

So, I decided to take the low road.

With a big mortgage and a family to support, I saw no reason to scare away potential clients -- especially potential clients who, when push came to shove, were asking where I lived just to break the ice.

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"Two hours north of Manhattan" was my standard response. "Upstate New York" was my backup, followed by "The Hudson Valley", "65 miles south of Albany", and the always dependable "Foothills of the Catskill Mountains".

So there I was in Munich at the International Headquarters of Allianz, one of the world's leading financial services institutions, with 142,000 employees and billions in sales.

My task? To lead a workshop, the next day, for the company's hard driving senior leadership team in an effort to jump start the launch of a company-wide effort to "gain a competitive edge through increased innovation".

Corporate speak? Of course it was. But it didn't matter to me. I didn't care what euphemisms my clients used to frame their business challenges. If I sensed even the smallest willingness on their part to become more innovative, I was there.

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There, in this case, was the well-appointed, pre-dinner reception for Allianz' Senior Team and a handful of outside, consultants, like me, who had been flown in from God knows where to help the company reach its ambitious business goals.

The dress code? Business casual. The bar? Open. The client? Dutifully introducing me to anyone he could collar.

And so it went, the small talk, the head nods, the firm handshakes -- me patiently waiting for the waiter with the pizza puffs and the inevitable moment when the "Where do you live?" question would head its ugly rear.

Somewhere, in between my first and second glass of chilled 1987 Riesling, standing next to three large German men I had just been introduced to -- Guenther, Heinrich, and Hans -- the question was asked.

I opened my mouth to say "Two hours north of Manhattan", but out came "Woodstock".

Maybe it was the wine or maybe it was the cumulative affect of the past ten years of mouthing geographical euphemisms. I don't know. But whatever it was, I knew this was going to be an interesting moment.

For three very long seconds, no one said a thing. The word just hovered in the air like some kind of Superbowl Blimp.

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Guenther was the first to speak.

"Wow!" he announced. "Did you actually go to the festival?"

Hans smiled broadly. "My older cousin went. Lucky bastard. I was too young."

Heinrich just stood there, expressionless, saying nothing. Then he raised his right hand and gave me a rousing high five.

"I love Joe Cocker!" he announced.

Somehow, I got the feeling that tomorrow's innovation workshop was going to be just fine.


Excerpted from my forthcoming book, WISDOM AT WORK: How Moments of Truth on the Job Reveal the Real Business of Life.

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Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at December 15, 2012 12:12 AM

Comments

Lovely story Mitch. Clearly peace, love and understanding have a universal appeal. Wave that freak flag high, my brother.

Posted by: Doug [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 15, 2013 06:44 AM

beautiful mitch! behind all the facades lies the human be-ing, thirsty for inspiration. they were lucky to have you there!

Posted by: joan Apter [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 15, 2013 02:05 PM

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