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There be Dragons Here!

By Stephen J. Heck


When ancient European mariners sailed the seas, they generally stayed in sight of the shore, fearful that they would be blown by strong winds into dark seas inhabited by scaly, fire-breathing dragons that would swallow their ship and all who were on board in one bite.

These mariners knew much about dragons from the stories that had been passed down through the generations.  These tales told about fierce winged creatures with huge claws which had swooped down on numerous villages, leaving death and destruction in their wake. None of the sailors had ever seen a dragon, dead or alive, but that didn�t shake their belief in the malevolent power of these beasts.  Thus, these fearful mariners felt it was better to be safe rather than risk their lives on long voyages in the open seas.

However, on the other side of the world in the kingdom of China, the dragon was considered to be a symbol of good fortune.  The Chinese, like Europeans, attributed enormous powers to the dragon, but unlike the Europeans, shared the world peacefully with these creatures.  The dragon was linked strongly by the Chinese with the basic elements of fire, water, earth, and sky.  Because of these links, the dragon was viewed as infinitely wise and able to provide many blessings to its human friends, as long as the humans gave the dragon due respect.  One of the most sacred and mysterious dragons in Chinese lore was the yellow or golden dragon that shimmered magnificently in the sun. 

As one of the ancient Chinese chroniclers stated:  �He can be large or small, obscure or manifest, short or long.  His intelligence and virtue are unfathomable.  He rides on the wind and rain and disports himself in the azure air.� The Chinese believed that the greatest honor a mortal with a brave and true heart could receive from this dragon would be transformation from a human to a dragon so that he or she could then dance upon the winds in sublime wisdom with other dragons.

In this practical era, all of us know that dragons, of course, never existed, so the stories we may read to our children about these creatures are quaint and amusing.  Nevertheless, there are lessons that go beyond the basic fables.  Organizations have and will continue to experience gale force winds of change which will either blow them off course or carry them to new lands of knowledge and accomplishment.  Organizations, as they are transformed, must master riding the winds and, like the dragons of ancient lore, master the elements. Lu Kuei Meng, a hermit writer from the 10th century, told a story that reinforces this point:

One day a wild dragon flew over the garden of a nobleman and saw two dragons asleep in the sun, chained to stout wooden posts.  The dragons were obviously well-fed and appeared unconcerned about their situation.  The wild dragon swooped down into the garden and spoke to his cousins:  �Break your chains and fly free with me, brothers.  Live in the depths of the water and soar through the sky.  Rest in regions beyond the bounds of air.  We are spirits that ride the winds and blow the clouds along. �The two dragons, their jaws resting on warm rocks, looked up at this strange dragon, blinked, and then closed their eyes.  Disgusted, the wild dragon soared high into the blue sky and disappeared from view.  Later that year, the nobleman�s palace was sacked by invaders.  The two dragons in the garden were captured and presented to the king of the invaders who in turn served the dragons as the main course at a royal banquet.

Stephen J. Heck is a Fellow of The Business Forum Institute.  Steve has extensive experience leading complex, multi-faceted initiatives impacting growth, operating efficiency, and overall financial performance of businesses across diverse sectors including public, private, and not-for-profit organizations. Career achievements include reengineering under-performing business operations, managing Information Technology enterprise system integration and facilitating global business expansion and growth. He has held senior positions with such organizations as WiMAX Forum; Humboldt State University, California; and Metro Regional Government, Portland, Oregon. Steve gained a B.A. from Portland State University; a Masters of Social Work from the University of Washington and a Masters of Public Administration from Portland State University, Oregon. He is a member of the Project Management Institute and IEEE Member, Society on Social Implications of Technology. Since 1996 Steve has been an evaluator with the Prior Learning  Assessment  Program at Marylhurst University in Oregon, and from 1984 to 2000 Steve was  Adjunct Professor in Public Administration at the Hatfield School of Government, Portland State University in Oregon.

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