The Substance of Things Not Seen

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I am at Oxford University today for the launch of the TEDGlobal 2009 Conference. There is a palpable energy permeating the quad of Keble College this morning as momentum is building for what I anticipate is going to be an extraordinary week of conversation, learning, new relationships, and more.

The theme of the conference, “The Substance of Things Not Seen,” draws me to a realm of experience I have always been aware of and has been an important part of my life’s work. Just a few weeks ago a Sr. R&D; Leader spoke to her organization in the aftermath of yet another down-sizing and re-organization. She stated in a demeanor that was congruent with her words: “I believe our character, convictions, and the culture of this organization will have much more to do with our success than our structure or processes.” She knows something of the “substance of things not seen” as she went on to discuss with the employees gathered the importance of qualitative as well as quantitative assessment. I talked with some of the technical professionals that work for her afterwards. They were inspired!

ROII (Return on Investment in Interactions) is a new way to think about value. “Productivity in a Networked Era: Not Your Father’s ROI.” an article in the current issue of Chief Learning Officer magazine, makes a compelling argument for “value creation migrating from what we can see (physical assets) to intangibles (ideas). Look at Google and Cisco.” Participating in TED this week represents for me the quintessential challenge of finding value in expanding global networks, both real and virtual.

Speaking of fathers, last week before departing for TED I spent an evening with my 85 year old father at our family’s cabin in Northern Minnesota. In the midst of our reminiscing and talking about the end of life (my mom died a year ago), my Dad commented about “the most well-documented description of heaven” he had ever read – a book he wants to share with my father- and mother-in-law who are also facing the end of life. Here is a curious but deeply felt reference to his connection to the “substance of things not seen”. Scriptural allusions to this topic are many and remain prominent in the lives of those who have influenced me.

I bring my awareness of all this and more to my dialogue and exploration of this week. There is no question in my mind that the difference between value and success lies in a domain that is often intangible and frequently cannot be seen.