‘If you are irritated by every rub, how will your mirror be polished?’
Jalal al-Din Muhammad Rumi was a 13th Century poet, scholar and Sufi mystic whose writings continue to inspire across cultures and languages, making him the best selling poet in the United States. Rumi’s teachings are guided by the concept of Tawhid, or the union with the Beloved, and that the path for achieving this was through music, poetry and dance. Within these teachings are universal truths that allow us, as strategists to transcend the mundane around us and achieve something truly meaningful and memorable.
Rumi was born in what is modern day Afghanistan to Persian speaking parents. The area at the time was a major Sufi centre in what was then the Sultanate of Rum. Rumi believed in the use of music, poetry and dance as a path for reaching God. For Rumi, music helped devotees to focus their whole being on the divine. It was from these ideas that the practice of whirling Dervishes developed into a ritual form. His writings reflect a singular focus on achieving transcendence, and using beauty, modesty, adversity and audacity to do so.
Rumi writes that ‘you were born with wings, why prefer to crawl through life?’ and;
Live where you fear to live.
Destroy your reputation.
This idea of being audacious, of striving for more, and of rejecting mundane thought is one that we have explored time and again, and is central to being an effective strategist. Your colleagues and the reality of the day to day will ground you, but if the strategist is not trying to inspire and strive for a greater perspective, then who is going to do that? Remember, we work in a field that is built on eliciting passion. This is easy to forget in our everyday binary work, but focusing on that as the strategist helps us elevate our collective efforts and inspires our clients to ever greater aspirations.
But inspiration is not enough. Action mattered to Rumi. As he wrote, ‘don’t be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others. Unfold your own myth’. Again, we have emphasized that it is not enough as a strategist to be just a dreamer and that without action your ideas are meaningless.
In working with others to action results, we should also look to Rumi for guidance on how to do so. As he writes, ‘raise your words, not voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder’. I love this idea of putting the emphasis on yourself to elevate your thoughts and how you articulate them rather than bullying those around you. Our industry is notorious for prima donna behaviour and this is a reminder that the best way to collectively achieve something special is through inspiration. And for that, the focus needs to be on ourselves as strategists. Rumi wrote that ‘yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself’. Again, this is an introspective perspective and a call to focus on the only thing you can truly control. We have previously explored the idea of embracing the chaos, focusing on what you can control and letting go of all else.
Rumi also understood that we are faced with adversity in our everyday lives. This is certainly the case in our work in digital marketing with so much change and competition. He sees adversity as the catalyst to enlightenment when he wrote that ‘the wound is the place where the Light enters you’. This, and the quote at the beginning of the episode is a reminder that it is only through experience that we learn, and that often there is no better experience to learn from than failure. This comes back to the idea we have previously discussed of failing fast, learning and moving on. The transitory nature of digital media gives us the unique opportunity to constantly test, iterate and learn.
Rumi gives us a reminder to be audacious, to strive for more, to get things done, to be modest in how you inspire others to action, to focus on making ourselves better as a way to help elevate all around us, and to learn from adversity. His mysticism and his striving for something bigger is an inspiration for us to be better strategists. And within his writing is a call for the need to focus on the longer and more strategic aspect of our lives, as he writes, ‘in Silence there is eloquence. Stop weaving and see how the pattern improves’.
Next week on octopus, we will continue to explore the role of the digital strategist with our next guest. Please be sure to comment below. I’d love to hear from you. Please subscribe for alerts about new episodes and content. Thank you for listening to octopus. I’m Nasser Sahlool.