One of the greatest gifts we can bring to a project is providing an opposing opinion. The voice in our head that whispers “Are we sure we’re going in the right direction? This might not get the results we’re looking for.”
My wife and I go to visit our daughter studying abroad in Rome. We plan to take a weekend trip to Sorrento and to see Pompeii. We take the bullet train from Rome to Naples. We expect to jump on another short train and ride from Naples to Sorrento. But we find ourselves standing in the train terminal looking at a sign in the ticket window that we, at first, don’t understand.
The sign informs that the Italian transportation system is experiencing a nationwide strike. Unfortunately, all trains are cancelled for the entire day.
The three of us stand with our luggage trying to grasp what this means. We quickly come up with Plan B.
An elderly man speaking Italian too fast to grasp starts pointing to a posted sign. He tells us what we already know. E’ uno sciopero. I treni si sono fermati. “It’s a strike. Trains are stopped.”
He sounds friendly and says the word taxi several times.
I ask “How much for a taxi to Sorrento?”
“Si, si taxi. … Sorrento.” He pulls out a calculator and types in number 80.
“80 Euro … taxi … Sorrento. You like I take to hotel?”
Hmm. 80 Euro is a little more than I want to spend for three train tickets for us. But this fellow promises to bring us to our hotel. Door to door service. Sounds like a deal.
I tell my wife that if we wait out the strike we forfeit our deposit at the hotel in Sorrento for tonight. Plus, we’d have to pay for another hotel here in Naples.
“Let’s go with him,” I say. (This makes total sense, doesn’t it? I mean, I’m a CEO decision-making genius, right?).
“Prego,” I say in my best Italian accent.
“Si, Sorrento,” the happy Italian man says. He grabs my bags and off he goes.
“Prego.” I guess we are to follow him. Is that right? Are we to… OK, here we go.
And we do. Up and out of the train terminal. My wife, my daughter and I follow. We walk pass a taxi stand and down the street. We walk around a corner, and I begin to wonder.
Wait a minute. Where is that taxi stand? We walk down another alley. (Every street is an alley in Naples) We turn another corner. Now I know I can never find my way back. Wasn’t that the taxi stand back there?
Where are we going? This dude isn’t a taxi driver. He may be a thief. And I’m an idiot. He’s going to knock me out, take my money and sell my wife and child.
We walk up to a small, older sedan. He opens the trunk and puts in our suitcases.
He grins widely and opens a door for my wife and daughter. My wife looks at me. We’ve been married a long time, and I can read her mind. She asks, “What are we doing? This isn’t a taxi!”
Sure enough, this is no taxi. I see no meter. This is his personal vehicle. The only redeeming value was the amount of rosaries around the rear view mirror and the prayer cards lined up along the dash board.
My wife grabs my jacket and whispers through clenched teeth: “You sit up front.”
What choice do I have? I don’t even want to get in his car. I don’t know this guy. This is no taxi. But we get in.
He takes off like a shot. We go several miles, winding through the back streets of Naples. Streets barely wide enough for one car, but packed in with others like sardines in a can. Several times, I hear my wife let out an audible “oh.” Driver dude chuckles when he hears her and says, “Napoli” — as if to say “This is how we do it, lady.”
I’m scared. I’m imagining that he pulls into a dark warehouse in a forgotten corner of Napoli. We’re about to get robbed, maybe even killed. We’ll pull up to a dock somewhere and get snatched on to a pirate ship where the women will work as galley slaves. I’ll probably get assigned to the “poop deck.”
We finally enter a highway. Our driver points out sites of interest in his fast-talking Italian. He shows us Mount Vesuvius and as we drove by he points toward the Isle of Capri.
We drive for an hour. It becomes a pleasant trip. Our driver pulls over at one point and gestures that we should take a photo showing Mount Vesuvius and Naples across the bay.
We pull into the lovely town of Sorrento. He finds our hotel. As our Italian entrepreneur who takes advantage of a transportation strike to make a little extra money gets our bags out of the trunk I hand him 80 euros and an extra 10.
He looks at me with a questioning smile. “That’s for not killing us and dumping our bodies in the Mediterranean Sea.” He shakes his head. He doesn’t understand. “Prego, prego,” he says.
As he drives away, we look at each other.
“What just happened?” my wife asks.
I turn to my daughter. “If you EVER do anything as stupid as getting in a car with a total stranger who doesn’t speak your language and drives away in a land you know nothing about I swear to the Holy One above I will kill you myself.”
Why didn’t I think this through?
Why didn’t I say something and stop the process when I thought it wasn’t right?
Why was I short in changing my mind when I felt that what we were doing was not only the wrong thing to do but potentially deadly?
And why didn’t anybody else say anything? Weren’t we all thinking the same thing?
# # #
My lesson: A happy ending doesn’t justify mistakes made along the way. Sometimes in a team project, one of the best team members to be is the one with that voice that says “Wait, let me point something out…” Or, “Can I bring up an opposing opinion for consideration?”
You may find it’s just the thing that allows the time necessary to confirm your direction. Or it may provide the energy necessary to change direction — and even save lives.
Trust your instincts.
Don’t be afraid to stop the process.