In addition to being a great novel, most scholars agree that the 1927 publication of Giants in the Earth by O. E. Rölvaag marks one of the first painfully honest assessments of the human price paid for the settling of the American West.
Giants is a story of Norwegian immigrants who moved from Europe to Minnesota and, eventually, further west finally settling in what is now South Dakota. It’s not a glamorous story.
In fact, there were moments when I wanted to put the novel down in anticipation of the eventual pain and even suffering for some of the characters. And that’s the beauty of the book. It’s a realistic story which, at times, is written in halting English.
It’s a story of both pain and triumph, success and failure, but mostly it is a story that captures the indomitable human spirit.
There is something about being American that is captured through Giants. Part of that something has to do with a combination of great curiosity coupled with a vast geography that’s part of our national DNA as evidenced by the expedition of Lewis and Clark from 1804-1806.
President Thomas Jefferson was curious about what lay west of the Mississippi River, and Lewis and Clark were more than eager to do his bidding. That coupling of curiosity and geography, combined with the desire to improve their standing in life, motivated millions of immigrants from Norway to China, and all places in between, to leave their homes and take a chance on America from the mid-19th to early 20th centuries; to risk and explore.
Some succeeded. Many failed. And, in one way or another, they all persisted. Indeed, there is something remarkable about the human spirit and its desire to push the boundaries of exploration.
One of the real risks of successful organizational leadership is the eventual acceptance of the status quo. In Iowa, we call that “the just good enough” syndrome.
Somehow, in the process of “getting there,” organizations sometimes get so comfortable with their earned success that they want to coast for a while. Eventually, a while becomes a year, and a year becomes a decade. And, when not looking, the organization’s mission, purpose, or product also becomes a bit stale and uninviting.
The “it” factor, that inspired members of the organization to earned success was overtaken by the “let’s sit” factor and, without a serious intervention, that organization’s purpose, rather than inspirational, is “just good enough.”
Good leaders have their finger on their organization’s pulse. They understand that we are an aspirational people that need to push, explore, break through boundaries and achieve challenging goals.Good leaders have their finger on their org's pulse & understand when to push, explore, break through boundaries. Click To Tweet
In general, humankind doesn’t do very well if it’s not working towards something. Boredom and complacency are terrible substitutes for calculated risk and achievement, which is not to suggest that a wagon ride west is easy, but it is purposeful.
An organization with purpose trumps complacency every time.An organization with purpose trumps complacency every time. Click To Tweet