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(Published: 2008-09-28)

“The Leopard,” one of Italy’s best-loved books, tells a story about the decline of a noble Sicilian family. The novel, written by Guisseppe Tomasi de Lampedusa, was made into a movie that most Americans have probably never heard of. It starred Burt Lancaster as Fabrizio, an aging patriarch, enmeshed in the turbulence of a changing era--when Sicily was annexed to a united Italy. There’s a famous line in the movie where Fabrizio says: “If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change.”

That may well be one of the best paradoxes I’ve ever heard. It’s also a good allegory for today. Whether you are talking politics or social programs, the economy or the environment, things are going to have to change if we want to continue to enjoy the kind of life we have come to expect as Americans.

I wouldn’t presume to have answers, but I think we can all agree on this: America needs to INNOVATE. Doing the same things in the same way will not only NOT preserve what we have, it will ensure that things continue to decline.

Innovation involves change, and change is always hard for people to accept, even if it means they are going to be better off in the long run. There is probably no better gift a leader today can have than that of being able to reframe the situation in order to help others see things differently. That means not just thinking outside of the box. It means throwing the box away all together.

Aristotle once said: “You don’t persuade people through intellect. You do so through emotion.” In order to convince others to try something new or different, you have to help reframe their perspective. The best way to do that is to connect on an emotional level with their heart, not just a rational level with their head.

“The Story of a Sign,” a short film directed by Alonso Barreda, is a wonderful example of this. (The film was submitted to the Short Film Online Competition, Cannes 2008.) Set in a beautiful piazza on a warm summer day, it opens with guitar music playing, birds singing, pigeons scuttling, and children playing. An old man with holes in his shoes is sitting on the pavement, begging for coins. There is a cardboard sign next to him: “Have compassion, I am blind.” All morning, passers-by ignore the old man—not one coin is dropped into his tin can.

The clock tower chimes noon and we see a well-dressed businessman approach. He looks to be in a bit of a hurry, but he stops to look at the man, then at the sign. He doesn’t drop any coins into the tin can. Instead, we see him take out his Mont Blanc pen and write something on the back of the sign.

The businessman replaces the sign, pats the old man on the shoulder, then leaves for his appointment. As the afternoon progresses, suddenly everyone, young and old, is dropping coins into the cup, which soon overflows. As the old man scrambles to pocket the coins, he hears the familiar footsteps of the businessman returning from his appointment, who again stops.

The old man asks: “What did you do to my sign?” The businessman replies: “I wrote the same, but in different words.” Then he walks away. The camera pans to the sign which now reads: “Today is a beautiful day, and I cannot see it.”

This message is from the heart, not the head. It’s the same, only different….with far better results.

If you want to make your day, you can view it at:

The Leopard

Story of a Sign

Robyn Waters is president and founder of RW Trend, LLC. She is the author of The Trendmaster’s Guide: Get a Jump on What Your Customer Wants Next, and The Hummer and the Mini: Navigating the Contradictions of the New Trend Landscape. Learn more about Robyn at All Rights Reserved.

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