Emperor’s New Clothes: Confronting Reality
Posted by Orrin Woodward on September 8, 2016
An excellent example of ego over excellence is found in Hans Christian Anderson’s short story, “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” The wayward emperor cared more about his clothes and status than the people and truth. Indeed, he was so obsessed with his attire that he changed suits every hour, flaunting his wealth and prestige to his subjects.
One day, two shysters, pretending to be weavers, presented themselves to the emperor. They bragged about their ability to weave the finest clothes with the most beautiful colors and elaborate designs. The clothes, according to the charlatans, were invisible to any simpletons or anyone unworthy of his office. The emperor, seduced by their claims, paid large sums of money to the weavers for new clothes. The two weavers, requesting the most expensive fabrics and threads, set up two looms, pretending to weave on the looms night and day while placing the materials inside their sacks.
The impatient emperor sent one of his loyal ministers to examine the clothes. The minister, discovering nothing, not even a single strand on the loom, feared that he must be a simpleton. He listened to the impostors describe the beautiful colors and patterns, but he only saw them working on empty looms. Still, not wishing to appear unworthy of his office, the minister reported back to the emperor what a genius the king was for hiring such competent and capable weavers. The emperor, after further delays, sent another official, hoping to encourage the completion of his suit. The official also saw nothing but, fearing the emperor’s wrath, reported to the king in a similar manner as the first minister did.
Finally, the day arrived for the emperor to preview the weavers’ work. The emperor, seeing nothing, but fearful of being considered unfit for his kingdom, played along with the deceit, proclaiming his love for the patterns and colors in his new outfit. The two con men proceeded to ask the emperor to remove his clothes, raising their arms as if holding something to put on him. The court officials, scared to speak the truth, pretended to agree with the emperor, lauding his genius and the weavers’ design. The people, in anticipation of the king’s most expensive and wondrous clothing to date, gathered for the parade to view the new clothes.
The emperor paraded through his capital city, listening as the people lavished complements on him and his new clothes. Nearly all were spellbound the king’s new clothes, but over the din of praise could be heard the cry of a child, shouting, “The emperor has no clothes on!” The father quickly reprimanded his son, but everyone around the boy heard the truth. The emperor, although secretly agreeing with the child, continued the parade as the crowd fawned in endless adulation because his new clothes were only seen by those with intelligence, worthy of their high offices.
The story highlights how easy it is for data to be ignored when false beliefs cause one to reject real data. Moreover, it reveals how most people prefer comfortable lies over uncomfortable truths. Leaders, however, are different. They demand truth, for they know only with truth can a person or business thrive. It’s vital at the check step of the PDCA process that a person confront reality (the king has no clothes) rather than go along with conventional wisdom, company expectation, or peer pressure. The facts are the facts and the PDCA process reveals whether one is dealing in facts or fantasy. Again, in God we trust, all others must have data. If the person suffers from self-deception, a distortion between reality and his perceptions, he will not confront the data accurately nor adjust his plans to win. The person must choose between comfortable illusions or disturbing realities and only leaders choose the latter.
Why do so many people go through the motions and avoid the PDCA process? They have so much potential and yet so few results. On one hand, winners make changing a habit, choosing to suffer the pain of growth rather than live in mediocrity. On the other other hand, losers make lying a habit, choosing to avoid the pain of losing by blaming others. People who lose live lives of delusions (similar to the king) hating to change so badly they distort reality instead. Naturally, this becomes more difficult as life becomes progressively tougher, but for most, this just increases the creativity of the excuses made.
Strangely, both winners and losers escape the pain of losing creatively: one the creativity to change themselves; the other the creativity to excuse themselves. Disastrously, however, the road usually taken, and what at first blush appears to be the easier route, the escape of pain through self-delusion (the emperor’s choice), ends up being the toughest road of all. For the pain of change is temporary, but the pain of regret is permanent. Be that as it may, the good news is that a person can get off the road to regret and change his destiny at any time by ending self-delusions. After all, when a person is sick and tired of being sick and tired, he will confront reality and start changing.
Leaders refuse to run from issues. They allow setbacks to build an increasing internal level of frustration, until finally, fed up, they explode past previous limiting beliefs. The pain of defeat has become stronger than the pain of changing. If, at any point in the process, the person chooses any of the escape valves to avoid the mounting pressure (excuses, blaming, or justifications), he temporarily kills the pain but only by passing the buck, denying he is responsible for the problem. Leaders refuse this option because the know they kill the pain only by killing the dream.
Anyone can be a leader, but he must refuse the seductive avenues of escape that lead to mediocrity. Reject completely the temporary mental comfort from avoiding the scoreboard of life. Instead, stare at the scoreboard until one has a plan to change and the DO IT! Don’t settle for mental peace and mediocrity. Rather, embrace the mental tumult of confronting brutal reality to win! Ultimately, there are only two choices in life: surviving or thriving. Start starting and quit quitting for (as I say repeatedly) when the going gets tough, the tough get going.
What is the area of life, where the reader has been avoiding truth, that confront and deal with the facts? This will be your finest hour because only the truth will set you free!