A team can be heaven, a team can be hell: what makes the difference?

This is a story I shared a few months ago during the ACE16 conference at Harvard.

The story of Heaven and Hell

There’s a man that all his life he’s had one singular worry.

He wakes up every morning with this worry, every lunchtime has this worry. What he worries about is “how is heaven and how is hell?”.

Every morning he wakes and this is the first thing he wonders, every lunchtime, every moment that he has a bit of peace, every time he’s waiting in an elevator: “how is heaven, how is hell?”

Finally God gets a little bit tired of this incessant worry and decides I’m going to take him up and show him.

The man appears at the first set of gates. There’s some fire, little devils and rusted gates. The gates open and they enter a room.

They enter hell. In this room, the first thing that strikes him a wonderful smell of food. As he looks around the room he sees people holding their belly groaning, starving.

He sees that each person in the room is holding something in their hand.

He looks closer. He sees it is an enormous spoon.

In the centre of the room there’s a bowl. An enormous bowl. In that bowl he looks and he sees it is full of food. The people in the room are approaching the bowl, dipping their spoon into the food but the spoon is so large that they cannot eat. They’re starving.

God says “this is hell”.

The man says “Hell is not what I expected.”

They appear in front of some other doors. Little angels, harps, nice clouds… the doors slide open: they step into heaven.

Same smell, same room, same Bowl in the middle, every person in the room has the same spoon… but in this room room they’re reaching into the bowl, filling their spoon with food and they are feeding each other.

The difference between heaven and hell is who you choose to serve first.

More on the subject of creating teams that are more like heaven than hell…

Nitin Nohria, Dean of Harvard Business School will be speaking at IESE Business School in Barcelona next Monday 13th.

“It is my desire to inspire people of all ages and social demographics to think about leadership on a broad level, contemplate what it means to them and what individual impact they can have when it comes to leading,” Nitin Nohria.

What does Leadership mean to you?

As a simple reflection, I share 2 short poems:

The Serenity Prayer

(paraphrased by me…)

Give me the strength to change the things I can change;
The patience to accept the things I cannot change
and the wisdom to tell the difference.

Author: Reinhold Niebuhr, 1943

“I Wanted To Change The World”

When I was a young man, I wanted to change the world.

I found it was difficult to change the world, so I tried to change my nation.

When I found I couldn’t change the nation, I began to focus on my town. I couldn’t change the town and as an older man, I tried to change my family.

Now, as an old man, I realize the only thing I can change is myself, and suddenly I realize that if long ago I had changed myself, I could have made an impact on my family. My family and I could have made an impact on our town. Their impact could have changed the nation and I could indeed have changed the world.

Author: Unknown Monk 1100 A.D.

Event Information

As the Harvard-IESE Committee celebrates its 50th Anniversary, IESE welcomes Harvard Business School Dean, Nitin Nohria, to speak to alumni at an exclusive session on January 13, 2014. Entitled, “Innovative Leadership: Learning from Asian Companies,” the session will be held at IESE’s Barcelona campus and organized by the Alumni Association. Registration is here.