ne ot the vorldŽ s premier violinists. loshua Bell. had per-
tormed in such illustrious settings as IondonŽ s Poval Albert
Hall. the Verbier lestival in Svitzerland. and Carnegie Hall.
He had toured vith such acclaimed groups as the Orchestre National de
lrance. the Salzburg Mozarteum Orchestra. and the 1onhalle-Orchester.
But he had never. ever done a gig at the IŽ Lntant Plaza Metro station in
Washington. D.C.
As it turned out. his pertormance there on lridav. lanuarv 23. 2007
vent mostlv unnoticed. Yes. amazinglv unnoticed. 1hree davs prior.
people had paid s100 tor less than verv good seats to hear him plav
in BostonŽ cent Svmphonv Hall. Several veeks later. he vould
accept the Averv lisher prize as the best classical musician in America.
But that chillv dav at the IŽ Lntant Plaza Metro station. he vas
incognito. unadvertised. and unknovn. He appeared to be just one
more street person hoping to get enough monev dropped in the open
violin case in tront ot him to pav tor his next meal. What vas loshua
Bell doing there· He vas taking part in a tascinating project set up bv
̸» É¿-¸·²¹¬±² б-¬. Peporter Gene Weingarten vould later describe it.
fpref.indd xiii 4/8/09 4:46:31 PM
xiv ° ® » º ¿ ½ »
in his Pulitzer PrizeŠ vinning article •Pearls Betore BreaktastŒ (April 8.
2007). as •an experiment in context. perception and priorities‰ as vell
as an unblinking assessment ot public taste: In a banal setting. at an
inconvenient time. vould beautv transcend·Œ
Granted. as Bell entered the station during morning rush hour. he
vas totallv nondescript in appearance. vearing jeans. a long-sleeved
1-shirt. and a Washington Nationals baseball cap. Positioning him-
selt against the vall near the top ot an escalator. he drev his personal
instrument trom its case‰ an 18th-centurv violin handcratted bv
Antonio Stradivari. Placing it beneath his chin. he commenced his one-
man concert. As the emotionallv povertul notes ot BachŽ s •ChaconneŒ
lled the air (Bell describes it as •one ot the greatest pieces ot music
ever vrittenΠ). uninterested commuters hurried bv. In the next 45
minutes. Bell plaved no tever than six classical masterpieces as 1.097
led past. most on their vav to vork.
Noticed bv a tev. Bell managed to amass s32 and change (includ-
ing pennies) tor his ettorts. A grand total ot seven people tarried to
listen tor a moment or tvo. But a hidden camera videotaping the expe-
rience revealed a tascinating turn ot events: each and everv single time
a child valked bv. the voungster stopped to listen‰ onlv to be dragged
ott bv a disinterested parent.
cent art vas transcended bv
its ordinarv circumstances. Or. as Weingarten put it. BellŽ s pertormance
vas •art vithout a trame.Œ 1hus. it vent largelv unnoticed because ot
the context.
1his storv (and a look at the hidden camera video tootage) reminded
us ot leaders ve knov vho. because ot their busv schedule. trantic lite.
and overall hectic existence. valk past greatness everv dav because it
appears so ordinarv. 1hen ve realized that tar trom being the exception.
this has become the norm: greatness is overlooked on a dailv basis due to
the vav it is encapsulated. Ordinarv people do great things in the business
environment. but these individuals and their deeds go largelv unnoticed.
Ieaders simplv tail to grasp vhat is right in tront ot them.
1his is turther evidenced bv clients vho bring us into their organi-
zations to solve a problem. We soon realize that thevŽ ve had evervthing
needed to successtullv resolve the issue all along‰ thev just did not see it.
fpref.indd xiv 4/8/09 4:46:31 PM
Pretace xv
1he chapters that tollov vill analvze the invisibilitv ot ordinarv
greatness. hov it happens and vhat it is. and hov leaders can learn
to open their eves and recognize it regardless ot its trame or con-
text. loshua BellŽ s storv is a remarkable indictment ot hov societv has
become inured to greatness. It is a vakeup call tor people in all valks
ot lite. but especiallv tor those in leadership positions vho struggle
everv dav to keep emplovees engaged and passionate about their vork.
fpref.indd xv 4/8/09 4:46:32 PM
fpref.indd xvi 4/8/09 4:46:32 PM
ntiques Poadshov is a television program that vas particularlv
popular a number ot vears ago. and vhich I believe is still run-
ning. It involves people bringing their various antiques to a
traveling group ot experts vho tell them hov much their item is vorth.
One ot the reasons vhv so manv people vatched the shov vas to vit-
ness that moment vhen one ot the experts told an unsuspecting antique
ovner that the lamp or end table or ceramic dog that had been taking
up space in their garage tor the past tventv vears vas actuallv vorth a
small tortune.
Bevond the noveltv ot realizing a vindtall vithout having to do
anv real vork. there is much more at vork here. 1here is just some-
thing amazing about looking at an item that vou once vieved vith
ambivalence and seeing it anev as an object ot great vorth. When that
item is a person. the excitement is particularlv povertul.
1o understand this phenomenon. consider another popular televi-
sion shov Š American Idol.1here are hundreds and hundreds. probablv
thousands. ot established singers in the vorld. all ot vhom are vorthv
ot our time and monev it veŽ d like to hear talented voices. But ve
just vouldnŽ t get millions ot busv people to stop vhat thev vere doing
fbetw.indd ix 4/8/09 4:45:26 PM
tvice a veek to listen to them simplv bv putting them on television.
But create an environment vhere ve get to discover hidden talent
among people vho ve vouldnŽ t normallv notice it thev bumped into
us on the street. and veŽ re suddenlv tascinated.
Well. vithin the organizations vhere ve vork. there are lamps. end
tables. ceramic dogs and pop stars just vaiting to be dusted ott and cele-
brated everv dav. and there is something povertul and exciting about
being the one to take them out ot the garage and dust them ott or let
them sing.
In Ordinarv Greatness. Pam Bilbrev and Brian lones explore this
concept and provide a comprehensive and practical set ot tools tor
excavating the hidden value and talent buried deep vithin our com-
panies. hospitals. churches and schools. 1hev base their advice on their
ovn substantial experience vorking vith real leaders in real organiza-
tions vhere thevŽ ve helped bring about excellence vhere others mav
have seen mediocritv.
But Pam and Brian do something bevond helping organizations
achieve more than thev thought possible. though that alone is a great
reason to buv and use this book. 1hev also provide a blueprint tor us
to go about changing the lives ot people vho vork tor us bv helping
them realize their potential and become the people thev are meant to
be. 1hat is certainlv one ot the most vorthvhile endeavors that anv
executive or manager can undertake. It vould also make tor some great
realitv t.v.
Patrick Iencioni
Author ot 1he live Dvstunctions ot a 1eam: A Ieadership lable
x º ± ® » ©± ® ¼
fbetw.indd x 4/8/09 4:45:27 PM
e are torever indebted to the scores ot clients vho have
uenced our thinking.1he honor
ot sharing in their pursuit ot excellence is humbling. We
have learned so much trom observing the passion. commitment and
perseverance ot these good people.
We are gratetul tor the storv ot loshua Bell. as brought to us in
Gene WeingartenŽ s É¿-¸·²¹¬±² б-¬ article. •Pearls Betore Breaktast.Œ
1hat tinv seed vas all that vas needed to spur our thinking on hov
evervdav greatness impacts vorkplaces across the globe. It encouraged
us to document the discoveries and the lessons ve have learned over
the vears in a book tormat.
1hank vou to those individuals vho volunteered their time to
share their perceptions and stories ot ordinarv greatness. So otten. vour
stories touched us in vavs vou vill never knov. 1hanks also go to the
hundreds ot individuals vho added their voices through response to
our Web-based survevs.
We are gratetul to our publisher. lohn Wilev 8 Sons. and especiallv
Sheck Cho. our editor. tor the support and encouragement provided
that made this book a realitv. Larlv in the manuscript preparation. ve
fbetw.indd xi 4/8/09 4:45:27 PM
vorked vith our •literarv angel.Œ Lllie Smith. Imagine her patience
and her talent as she vorked vith us to unite our voices tor the book.
We vill be torever gratetul tor her guidance. Iater in the process. Deb
Burdick came on board and challenged us vith a •nevcomerŽ sŒ viev ot
the manuscript. ensuring that our blinders did not distract trom sharing
our enthusiasm tor discovering and celebrating the greatness that exists
in all our lives. Her constant encouragement. her ever present zest tor
lite and. ot course. her superb editing skills made this book a realitv.
1hank vou. Deb. 1hanks also to Melanie lones. our researcher extra-
ordinaire. vho never lett a stone unturned and tound creative vavs to
add interest to the text.
1hanks to Pat Iencioni and our triends at 1he 1able Group tor
encouraging us to move torvard vith the book. A special vord ot
thanks is also given to our manv colleagues vho. through the vears. have
challenged our ideas and added nev dimensions to our vork. 1he long
ights. the late meetings. the intense
discussion sessions. and the rigorous debates vere peppered vith triend-
ship and admiration.You knov vho vou are and ve thank vou.
xii ¿ ½ µ ² ± © ´ » ¼ ¹ ³ » ² ¬ -
fbetw.indd xii 4/8/09 4:45:27 PM
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t vas not the musician. the music he selected. or the instrument he
plaved that prevented people passing through Washington. D.C.Ž s
IŽ Lntant Plaza trom recognizing greatness. Instead. the common
surroundings. coupled vith the perceived tvrannv ot their schedules.
seemed to keep people on their original •trackŒ vithout stopping
to appreciate vhat vas right in tront ot them. loshua BellŽ s impromptu
concert vas not a destination or an event tor vhich thev had planned
and saved. He appeared as thev vere transiting through a Metro
station. and because ot that. his pertormance vas somehov seen as back-
ground noise and dismissed.
Inspired bv the loshua Bell storv. and intrigued bv the vav this
phenomenon ot ordinarv greatness overlooked could be applied to
CH001.indd 1 4/6/09 4:45:45 PM
2 ± ® ¼ · ² ¿ ® § ¹ ® » ¿ ¬ ² » - -
a broader perspective (and especiallv its impact in the vorkplace).
looked to stories ot modern heroes. people vho vere catapulted into
prominence‰ because at one point in time. their greatness vas not rec-
ognized either.
̸» Ý¿-» º±® ß«¬¸±®·¬§
1he tatetul dav vhen this movie-mad child got close to his
Hollvvood dream came in the summer ot 1965. vhen
17-vear-old Steven. visiting his cousins in Canoga Park. took
the studio tour ot Lniversal Pictures. •1he tram vasnŽ t stop-
ping at the sound stages.Œ Steven savs. •So during a bathroom
break I snuck avav and vandered over there. just vatching.
I met a man vho asked vhat I vas doing. and I told him mv
storv. Instead ot calling the guards to throv me ott the lot. he
talked vith me tor about an hour. His name vas Chuck Silvers.
head ot the editorial department. He said heŽ d like to see some
lms. and so he gave me a pass to get on the lot the
next dav. I shoved him about tour ot mv 8- lms. He vas
verv impressed. 1hen he said. •I donŽ t have the authoritv to
vrite vou anv more passes. but good luck to vou.Œ
1he next dav a voung man vearing a business suit and carrving
a brietcase strode past the gate guard. vaved and heaved a silent
sigh. He had made it' •It vas mv tatherŽ s brietcase.Œ Spielberg
savs. •1here vas nothing in it but a sandvich and tvo candv
bars. So everv dav that summer I vent in mv suit and hung out
vith directors and vriters and editors and dubbers. I tound an
ce that vasnŽ t being used. and became a squatter. I vent to a
camera store. bought some plastic name titles and put mv name
in the building directorv: Steven Spielberg. Poom 23C.Œ
SpielbergŽ s call to ordinarv greatness vas asserting itselt: his mindset
ot authoritv so convinced the people he encountered at the studio that
no one ever questioned his right to be there' As a matter ot tact. he
nallv ottered a job.
CH001.indd 2 4/6/09 4:45:45 PM
What Is Ordinarv Greatness· 3
In the tace ot seeminglv insurmountable odds‰ his vouth. inex-
perience. and anonvmitv‰ he rose to the occasion bv retusing to be
deteated. 1hough it vould be vears betore it vas recognized. Spielberg
instinctivelv knev that he had greatness in him. His air ot authoritv
alloved him to be accepted.
Do ve question people vhom ve instinctivelv perceive to have
authoritv. even though a title or tormal designation might be lacking·
No: rarelv. it ever. do ve challenge them. Instead. ve respond to their
attitude ot being in charge almost automaticallv. It might be a charac-
teristic. a hallmark ot greatness to come. vet ve seldom recognize it tor
vhat it is.
ß Ø¿®¾·²¹»® ±º ¬¸» Ú«¬«®»
Larlv in his lite. one ot the character traits ot Sir Winston Churchill vas
cer in the intantrv. While
he tought in several vars during this time period. coming under heavv
re at the tront line. he escaped injurv. What vas most interesting
about his experiences in combat. though. vas his outlook. Atter one
battle. he vrote his mother: • re all dav and rode through
the charge. You knov mv luck in these things. I vas about the onlv
cer vhose clothes. saddlerv or horse vas uninjured . . . I never telt
the slightest nervousness.Œ
His •luck in these thingsŒ he interpreted as Divine Providence. He
vrote. •I shall believe I am to be preserved tor tuture things.Œ And later.
• ll-
ing oneŽ s place in the scheme ot vorld attairs. one mav avait events
vith entire composure.Œ
Is it possible that those vho vill somedav demonstrate greatness are
better at interpreting their destinv· Is this abilitv to be sure about oneŽ s
purpose in lite a characteristic ot ordinarv individuals vho respond to
extraordinarv circumstances vith courage. vho rescue people trom
burning buildings. and vho save comrades trom varŽ s peril· Perhaps it
each ot us could hear the inner voice ot ordinarv greatness. it might be
easier to recognize it in others.
CH001.indd 3 4/6/09 4:45:45 PM
4 ± ® ¼ · ² ¿ ® § ¹ ® » ¿ ¬ ² » - -
ß Ü»-·®» ¬± Ø»´°
Lverv dav people pertorm acts ot ordinarv greatness that ve tail to rec-
ognize. 1he Iittle Ieague coach vho untailinglv gives the vorst plavers a
chance at bat: the couple vho adopt a child vith grave phvsical problems:
the healthcare vorker vho spearheads an annual drive to collect books
tor an inner citv school . . . there are countless examples ot ordinarv
and overlooked heroes among us. But. these acts are propelled into our
consciousness bv the circumstances.
In 1982. Air llorida llight 90 vent dovn in Washington. D.C.Ž s icv
Potomac Piver in the midst ot a snovstorm. A tederal emplovee on
his vav home trom vork vatched incredulouslv as the plane clipped a
bridge and plunged into the vater. Iennv Skutnik could have stood bv.
vaiting tor rescue vorkers to save as manv as thev could. vet he svam
out to rescue a drovning stranger.
1he vater vas 29 degrees that dav. As Skutnik vatched a crash vic-
tim tail again and again to grasp a rescue basket trom a helicopter. he
vent into the river and svam 30 vards to rescue her. Iater he vould
sav. •It vas just too much to take. When she let go that last time . . . it
vas like a bolt ot lightening or something hit me‰ •YouŽ ve got to go
get herŽ .Œ
1here vere several people that dav vho also pertormed teats ot
heroism: a helicopter pilot vho endangered his ovn lite vhile rescu-
ing others: a medic vho climbed out to help a victim too veak to save
herselt: tvo bvstanders vho vent into the vater to assist people: and
one ot the planeŽ s passengers. vho drovned atter passing the liteline
numerous times to others.
1he publicitv-shv Skutnik vas never at ease vith the accolades
tor his braverv. •I vasnŽ t a hero.Œ he protests. •I vas just someone
vho helped another human being. WeŽ re surrounded bv heroes. What
lm and vent all over
the vorld.Œ
Yes. ve are surrounded bv ordinarv greatness. embodied
in heroes vho make a protound ditterence in othersŽ lives. We seldom
see this greatness tor vhat it is. though. unless‰ as in SkutnikŽ s case‰ it
visits us in our homes on the nightlv nevs.
Could vou have done vhat these people did· 1hev vere com-
mon. evervdav people vho pertormed great acts. driven to help others
CH001.indd 4 4/6/09 4:45:46 PM
What Is Ordinarv Greatness· 5
despite the peril to themselves.1hev might never have been recognized
ung them into heroism. situa-
tions thev responded to as it thev vere predestined tor them.
Ø¿®¼©·®»¼ ¬± λ-½«»
Lniversitv ot Illinois at Lrbana-Champaign lav protessor David Hvman
conducted a tour-vear studv about the villingness ot average Americans
to help others in need.Wondering vhether L.S. lav should require citi-
zens to help each other in times ot emergencv. he made an interesting
discoverv: Pescues outnumber non-rescues 740 to 1 each vear.
studv shovs vou donŽ t need lavs to get people to rescue one another.
1hev seem to do it themselves.Œ Hvman said.•Americans are much bet-
ter than the lav expects them to be. . . . [the studv suggests that| people
are hard-vired to rescue. ItŽ s an instinctive response. People see someone
else in peril and thev vill jump in. almost regardless ot risk.Œ
Ü»B²·¬·±² ±º Ñ®¼·²¿®§ Ù®»¿¬²»--
nition ot ordinarv greatness evolved over the course ot vrit-
ing this book. linallv. ve settled on •superior and otten unrecognized
characteristics. qualities. skills. or ettort tound in a person vho mav be
othervise undistinguished: usuallv discovered in a response to unex-
pected circumstances.ΠPerhaps the easiest vav to describe ordinarv
greatness is that it is most otten uncelebrated. sometimes possesses an
element ot nobilitv. and is rarelv on displav. In tact. vhen ve celebrate
true ordinarv greatness (see Lxhibit 1.1). it is because it has managed to
transcend its invisibilitv.
People vho exhibit ordinarv greatness elect to put torth an abundance
nd themselves in extraordinarv. demanding.
or special circumstances vith the opportunitv to make a ditterence. 1hev
do so vithout reservation. ansvering a call that comes trom deep vithin.
1he desire to be in the spotlight is never a tactor. 1hev demonstrate
resilience in the tace ot adversitv. persistence in the tace ot great odds.
and a determination to live the values thev hold most dear.
CH001.indd 5 4/6/09 4:45:46 PM
6 ± ® ¼ · ² ¿ ® § ¹ ® » ¿ ¬ ² » - -
lormer prisoner ot var Bob Blair savs he had an •epiphanv‰ to get
volunteers to help him grov nutritious tood tor the needv.ΠAccording
to ABC Nevs. the organization that named Blair one ot their •Persons
ot theYear.ΠBlair noticed there vere an avtul lot ot people. hundreds ot
thousands ot people. vho are •tood insecure. meaning thev donŽ t knov
vhere their next meal is coming trom.ΠBetveen lune and December
2008. Blair estimated he had harvested about 35 tons ot vegetables vith
the help ot 3.100 volunteers.
Pon Clark. a teacher vho •never vanted to teach: all I vanted vas
lled vith adventure.Πalso embodies such determination. Atter
ve vears. he sav
a television program about a school in Last Harlem. NevYork that vas
having trouble attracting good teachers. He immediatelv packed up his
car. drove to NevYork. staved at theYMCA. and searched out a school
like the one he had seen on television. •When I started teaching there
(NevYork CitvŽ s P.S. 83. in Spanish Harlem). people at the school said
it vas the vorst class thev had seen in 30 vears.Œ Pon recalls. •1here
vere so manv discipline problems in the classroom I couldnŽ t get the
kidsŽ attention. 1hev didnŽ t respect me. thev didnŽ t respect each other.
nor [did thev respect| the other teachers.ΠPon recognized the vav
adults take things tor granted vhen dealing vith kids. •WeŽ re constantlv
telling them to behave or be respecttul. but veŽ re not taking the time
to shov them vhat ve expect.ΠPon states. He came up vith a list ot
55 rules tor his classroom‰ rm handshake. hov to go
on an interviev. hov to use proper etiquette. and hov to be hum-
ble and not arrogant. among others. Bv making his expectations clear
and investing himselt in the lives ot his students. Pon not onlv taught
untorgettable lite lessons. he lived them. Have high expectations trom
others. but higher ones tor vourselt. Invest vourselt in the potential vou
nd a vav to relate to other people.
Û¨¸·¾·¬ ïòï ned
Ñ®{¼·²{¿®{§ Ù®»¿¬{²»--
Superior and otten unrecognized characteristics. qualities.
skills. or ettort tound in someone vho mav be othervise
undistinguished: usuallv discovered in the response to
unexpected circumstances.
CH001.indd 6 4/6/09 4:45:46 PM
What Is Ordinarv Greatness· 7
1he common theme ve tound that transcended all the intervievs
and behaviors people shared vas this: Ordinarv greatness knovs no
boundaries. 1he limitations ot age. education. talent. and culture do
not applv. 1hese individuals are the generous humanitarians ve never
hear about: thev are the great leaders vho stav in the background: thev
are the unrecognized emplovees vho quietlv carrv an organization to
success: and thev are the brave individuals vho respond to a disaster
behind the scenes. Ordinarv greatness is evervvhere. in the most com-
mon ot circumstances. vaiting to inspire and motivate us‰ the kev is
to recognize it'
In the vords ot American poet Walt Whitman. •Can each see signs
ot the best bv a look in the looking glass· Is there nothing greater or
more· Does all sit there vith vou·Œ
We otten overlook the ordinarv greatness that is right betore us.
ne ordinarv greatness·
What are the clues that lead vou to discover ordinarv greatness·
Have vou passed bv greatness onlv to discover it later·
CH001.indd 7 4/6/09 4:45:47 PM
CH001.indd 8 4/6/09 4:45:47 PM
ݸ¿°¬»® î
Ñ®¼·²¿®§ Ù®»¿¬²»--
It uas aii :ioeotapeo |y a hiooen camera. . . .lhe peopie scurry |y in comicai iittie
hops ano starts, cups o/ co//ee in their hanos, ceiiphones at their ears, ID tags siap·
ping at their |eiiies, a grim oanse maca|re to inoi//erence, inertia, ano the oingy,
gray rush o/ mooernity.
L:en at this acceierateo pace, though, the nooier`s mo:ements remain ßuio ano
grace/ui, he seems so apart /rom his auoience÷unseen, unhearo, otheruorioiy÷
that you nno yoursei/ thinking that he`s not reaiiy there.¬ ghost.
·niy then oo you see it. He is the one uho is reai.lhey are the ghosts.
‰ Û¨½»®°¬ º®±³ ¿®¬·½´»
•Ð»¿®´- Þ»º±®» Þ®»¿µº¿-¬Œ
ranted. the reasons people do not see ordinarv greatness are
easv enough to grasp. Hovever. it is important to be able to
characterize ordinarv greatness and understand vhat it is all
about. 1his is the trst step in taking ott the blinders: recognizing ordi-
narv greatness and immeasurablv enriching our lives as a result. Nothing
is more meaningtul to a leader than vitnessing greatness in an emplovee
vho vas personallv coached. 1his is. atter all. vhv ve are called to lead.
CH002.indd 9 4/6/09 6:05:33 PM
10 ± ® ¼ · ² ¿ ® § ¹ ® » ¿ ¬ ² » - -
Having scoured modern-dav hero stories and conducted individ-
ual intervievs. ve had come closer to a detnition ot ordinarv greatness.
Hovever. vhen it came to linking the concept ot ordinarv greatness to
the vorkplace. a bit more research vas needed. We started bv look-
ing at previouslv collected data. One ot the sources that immediatelv
caught our attention vas the data collected trom various orientation
programs. During the course ot their orientation vith a nev emplover.
ve surveved emplovees to determine the characteristics most import-
ant to them in detning a great leader and a great co-vorker. Lverv
other veek. the class ot nev emplovees undergoing orientation is
asked. What makes a great leader·¨ 1he ansvers have been collected
over vears and. vhen thev are trended. several traits or characteristics
bubble to the top: honest. trustvorthv. energetic. caring. supportive. and
visionarv. 1he great leader is someone vho leads vith conviction. but
vith a deep compassion and respect tor those vho tollov. Great leaders
are thoughttul. compassionate. empathetic. dedicated. and decisive.
A second question.What makes a great co-vorker·¨ provided addi-
tional insight.1he descriptors included: alvavs gives that extra ettort: vill
be true to his or her vord: and is not out tor the glorv. Other emplovees
told us that the best colleagues are kind. considerate. and put others trst:
thev have a good sense ot humor and do not take themselves too seri-
ouslv: thev have a good vork ethic. We even heard about an emplovee
vho purchased a set ot tires tor a disadvantaged covorker'
Ñ«® Í«®ª»§
While each ot the stories in Chapter 1 otters tascinating aspects ot
ordinarv greatness discovered in individuals vho later came to prom-
inence. ve vanted to uncover ordinarv greatness as it exists in the
unsung heroes all around us. the evervdav people vho are making a
ditterence in the lives ot others. So ve conducted a series ot intervievs
vith more than 75 individuals trom all valks ot lite. We trst asked.
Who are three people vho come to mind that vou vould consider as
possessing greatness. and vhv·¨
Interestinglv enough. the intervievs generated some common
themes. 1he leading responses included: Gandhi. Martin Iuther King.
Mother 1eresa. and lesus. Other popular names included limmv Carter.
Bill Gates. Abraham Iincoln. and Oprah Wintrev. As ve pursued the
CH002.indd 10 4/6/09 6:05:33 PM
Ordinarv Greatness Observed 11
vhv¨ part ot the question. ve tound that each ot these individuals vas
larger than lite. Lach had a vell-established reputation: some vere tre-
quentlv represented in the media: others vere historical tgures vith a
compelling storv: some vere religious role models.All vere vell-regarded
tor their ethics and morals or tor their leadership and business success. but
mostlv tor their desire and commitment to help their tellov man.
We learned about Karla Gergen. a Minnesota educator vho vrote
about her impressions ot ordinarv greatness in the lite ot Mother 1eresa
in an article tor the Minneapolis-St. Paul :tar lri|une (see Lxhibit 2.1).
Õ¿®´¿ Ù»®¹»²æ Ø»»¼·²¹ ¬¸» ½¿´´ ¬± ±®¼·²¿®§ ¹®»¿¬²»--
Meeting Mother 1eresa vas a lesson in doing small things vith
great love.
Þ§ µ¿®´¿ Ù»®¹»²
Mv tirst thought vas that she vas smaller than I thought she`d
be. She vas in a vheelchair at the back ot the room. her recent
illness having taken obvious toll and also the cause ot her absence
at the other masses ve had attended. Our ride to church had
taken longer than expected that morning. so ve rushed right bv
her in our late arrival. It vasn`t until about haltvav through mass
that I even noticed her.
Oh. that`s her.¨ I thought. and then mv mind vent elsevhere.
Atter mass. I vas preparing to leave vhen mv triend 1herese
noticed people lining up and suggested ve join them. When I
asked vhat the line vas tor. she just shrugged and said. Iet`s
tind out.¨ So ve did.
1hen someone came along and asked evervbodv in the line to
kneel dovn. and ve did that too. Soon. one ot the sisters
brought her out in her vheelchair and rolled her slovlv along
our kneeling bodies vith heads lovered tor blessing. She brietlv
touched each ot our heads as she said an individual praver.
And that`s hov I came to be able to sav that I met Mother 1eresa.
Despite the tamous name and tace. it`s not mv strongest memorv ot
mv month in Calcutta. tar trom it. It vas mv other experiences that
made the deepest impressions on me: vorking side bv side vith
vomen vho`ve cheertullv given up evervthing thev ovn and their
vhole lives to take care ot the poor: earlv morning valks past
sleeping lumps on the sidevalk vho are slovlv coming to lite: a
mother holding up her babv to me. desperatelv begging tor help.
and me just valking avav because I vas so overvhelmed I didn`t
knov vhat to do.
Û¨¸·¾·¬ îòï Karla Gergen`s storv
ͱ«®½»æ Lsed vith permission ot Karla Gergen.
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12 ± ® ¼ · ² ¿ ® § ¹ ® » ¿ ¬ ² » - -
Karla Gergen. Minneapolis. is a teacher.
But vou don`t vant to read these stories. Or rather. I don`t vant to
vrite them. It`s easier to vrite about mv celebritv sighting. Atter all.
that is vhat ve made her÷a celebritv÷and I eventuallv learned
that meeting her vas the kind ot storv people liked to hear.
Lven so. I don`t tell it verv vell. She vas one ot the reasons I chose
to go to Calcutta. but I hadn`t been star-struck like I thought I`d be.
Her ordinariness vas engulted in the chaotic beautv and suttering
ot the citv.
Bv her lack ot impression on me. I came to understand not that she
is less important than ve make her out to be. but that ve are all
more important than ve let ourselves be. She`d be the tirst to sav so.
One ot her most trequentlv quoted expressions savs.•We can do no
great things÷onlv small things vith great love.¨ She knev that
vhat ve call greatness is tound not in tame but in vhat ve do each
dav. the simple and ordinarv vavs ve live our lives.
Seven months atter I returned home. 10 vears ago this Wednesdav. I
heared on the nevs that she had died. I cried. though I still couldn`t
tell vou vhv. It might have been that griet ve teel anv time
someone good leaves us. It might have been in remembrance ot
Calcutta. vhat I had seen there and hov it opened mv eves to hov
big and beautitul and horrible this vorld is. It might have been
because it remined me ot vhat that Sundav morning had taught me.
and I vondered vhether I vas living up to it.
She vas just a little voman vho did vhat she could tor others and
loved God. lact is. I knov lots ot people like that. and trom more
than a briet touch a decade ago. It is their blessings÷mv mother
kissing mv torehead. a conversation vith a triend vho`s on tire tor
justice. a homemade thank-vou card trom a student÷that matter to
me.1hese blessings remind me that I too am called to average. dailv.
ordinarv greatness in hopes that somedav. vhen I am old and
veakened. others vill be just as unimpressed bv me.
We tound Karla vorking at an orphanage in Ll Salvador÷proot that
ordinarv greatness knovs no geographical boundaries.
Missing trom the list. hovever. vere people like vou and me. the
evervdav loe.¨ the commoner vhom all ot us touch and are touched
bv each dav. So ve asked a second question: Who are the three people
vou personallv knov vho possess greatness. and vhv·¨ 1his is vhen
Û¨¸·¾·¬ îòï øݱ²¬·²«»¼÷
CH002.indd 12 4/6/09 6:05:34 PM
Ordinarv Greatness Observed 13
the richer. hearttelt stories came to light. manv ot vhich brought tears
to our eves.
1hese vere stories about mothers. tathers. siblings and grandpar-
ents: thev vere about church pastors. nurses and doctors. teachers÷
thev vere about normal people vho had made a protound impact on
someone`s lite.
Ieaders vere mentioned as vell. such as the CLO vho transtormed
a dving manutacturing tacilitv ot 630 emplovees trom a dismal 43°
pertormance rating to 108° in one vear. 1his leader engaged emplov-
ees at all levels. unleashing their creativitv and enthusiasm to turn their
plant around. He removed tribalism and created a seamless operation
and culture that continues to be an example tor other tacilities. even in
challenging economic times.When he had to tell statt that despite their
hard vork thev vould not receive their bonuses. 630 emplovees gave
him a standing ovation. He vas. and is. ve vere told. humble. driven.
and extremelv talented.
1here vere numerous mentions ot evervdav leaders vho vere
considered great because ot their beliet in the potential ot others and
their commitment to help develop that potential.
At one ot our client sites. the nev chiet executive ottcer (CLO).
Bill. still in his trst 90 davs in the position. told us that he vas con-
cerned about his marketing division. 1he division got good results and
represented the trm vell. but Bill told us. Other marketing vice presi-
dents vith vhom I have vorked have been verv vocal. dvnamic people
vho kind ot chev up the scenerv.` But Sallv. the marketing vice presi-
dent here. rarelv talks in meetings and is a bit ot an introvert. 1here is
no vav she can be successtul. can she·¨
Our recommendation to Bill vas to take a dav and tollov Sallv
around as she met vith suppliers. ad agencies. reterral sources. and
kev customers. Not onlv vould this educate Bill about the business.
its customers. and the market. but it vould give him a chance to get to
knov Sallv a little better and allov him to make a better assessment ot
her capabilities. He ottered to spend the dav vith her. and she gladlv
1he dav atter their tours and site visits. ve called Bill to ask him
hov the dav had gone. He told us that he had clearlv been voved bv
Sallv`s abilitv. marketing savvv. and relationship-building skills vith kev
CH002.indd 13 4/6/09 6:05:34 PM
14 ± ® ¼ · ² ¿ ® § ¹ ® » ¿ ¬ ² » - -
suppliers. customers. and prospects. During the dav. one ot the leaders
ot an ad agencv thev had visited told Bill. Don`t be tooled bv Sallv.
She appears to be quiet and unassuming. but vhen it comes to tght-
ing tor vhat is best tor vour companv. she`s a tiger'¨ Bill told us that
he had learned a real lesson about his ovn blinders and preconceived
notions about hov a successtul marketing vice president should behave
and look. I had alloved it to become about things other than results.¨
he said.
At one ot our client sites in the vestern Lnited States. ve vere
introduced to a man named Bailev. Nov. Bailev vas not someone easilv
overlooked. tor he had been stricken vith a childhood disease that ren-
dered one side ot his bodv useless and had limited his mental develop-
ment to age ten. In manv places. someone like Bailev vould be passed
over tor just about anv job. but at this client (a hospital). a human
resources manager named 1im and a tood service director named Bettv
teamed up to not onlv hire Bailev. but give him the verv important job
pushing carts ot cooked tood trom the kitchen to the cateteria. It vou
don`t think that job is important. remember vho eats at hospital cate-
terias: not onlv emplovees. but otten loved ones ot patients vho are at
their most vulnerable.
Lverv dav. Bailev vould push his cart up and dovn one ot the main
corridors ot the hospital. saving hello to everv single person he vould
pass. In this vav. he became a role model tor the other emplovees ot
the hospital vho began to tell themselves. It Bailev can sav hello to
me and everv other person he sees. then mavbe I can. too.¨1his move-
ment began to take ott in the hospital. and evervone began greeting
each other in the hallvavs. A small thing. vou might sav. but this kind
ot ordinarv graciousness can make a big ditterence to someone vho is
vith a loved one in the hospital or even seeking treatment themselves.
Bailev`s movement took ott so amazinglv that vhen someone did
not sav hello. thev reallv stood out. Otten atter Bailev greeted people. it
thev passed him vithout responding in kind. Bailev vould tollov them
and in his sveet. innocent vav. ask. Hev. Brian÷I said hello. and vou
didn`t sav hello back to me÷vhat`s vrong·¨1alk about accountabilitv'
Bailev once repeated this treatment to the CLO ot the hospital.
vho had valked past him and. selt-absorbed. tailed to return Bailev`s
greeting. Ot course. Bailev vas no respecter ot titles in this regard. so
CH002.indd 14 4/6/09 6:05:34 PM
Ordinarv Greatness Observed 15
he tolloved the CLO. and said. I said hello. and vou didn`t sav hello
to me. What`s vrong·¨ Ot course. this torced the CLO to stop and sav.
You knov vhat. Bailev. vou`re right. I didn`t sav hello to vou. I guess
I got carried avav in mv ovn thoughts. I`m sorrv.¨ When the CLO
told us this storv. he said. In this vav. Bailev taught me a lesson about
accountabilitv and the tact that evervbodv is vatching me all the time.
I`m glad he had the courage to contront me. In so manv vavs. he is
living proot that vhat ve are building here is vorthvhile.¨
Who knovs hov manv people Bailev has touched at their veak-
est. saddest. or most distant moments· He detnitelv made an impact on
our lives. We are glad 1im and Bettv sav ordinarv greatness in Bailev
and set him tree to make a ditterence.
ɱ®¼- º®±³ ¬¸» É·-»
1hen there vas Cher. a 21-vear-old salesperson at a cellular phone
store I (Pam) had the opportunitv to meet atter mv BlackBerrv died.
While vaiting tor the next available person.¨ I overheard Cher
and a colleague passing the time bv sharing vell-knovn quotes and
guessing the author. I inserted mvselt into the conversation and asked
it thev knev anv good quotes on greatness. thinking that perhaps mv
Saturdav vould not be totallv vasted and I vould come avav vith a
tidbit tor this book.
Immediatelv Cher responded vith a quote trom Shakespeare`s
luei/th ^ight: . . . be not atraid ot greatness: some are born great. some
achieve greatness. and some have greatness thrust upon `em.¨
vith the protound vords trom this voung adult. I asked it she had a
tev minutes to chat about her thoughts on greatness. When asked the
question about the three people possessing greatness vho immedi-
atelv came to mind. Cher responded: Marilvn Monroe. mv mom. and
Cvnthia. a triend ot mv mom`s.¨ I vas surprised but delighted that she
mentioned people trom her personal lite as tvo ot the three.
1o Cher. Marilvn Monroe vas a larger-than-lite tgure representing
immense talent and perseverance. But vhen she spoke ot her mom.
her voice changed and her eves lit up. She is the greatest person. She
is alvavs there tor me and never judges me. I knov she vants vhat is
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16 ± ® ¼ · ² ¿ ® § ¹ ® » ¿ ¬ ² » - -
best tor me and I knov that I can alvavs count on her. no matter vhat.
She loves me unconditionallv and alvavs vill. She`s mv mom.¨
It vas the storv about Cvnthia. hovever. that shoved this voung
ladv`s maturitv and insight. Cher told me ot Cvnthia`s impact on her out-
look on lite. She is the happiest person I knov. She is dving ot cancer
and she is still the happiest person I knov. She spends her time helping
others. I have learned so much bv vatching the vav she lives her lite.
I onlv hope that I can live mv lite vith the same grace and love.¨
In the responses to the question about personallv knovn indi-
viduals vho possess greatness. the themes that emerged vere consist-
ent. Pepeatedlv ve heard about people vho served as role models.
vere supportive and nurturing. and possessed the courage ot personal
convictions. We heard about grandparents vho raised a tamilv single-
handed: a triend addicted to drugs vho turned his lite around: and a
co-vorker vho adopted six needv and medicallv challenged children.
We learned about an emplovee vho helped a colleague in need due
to illness. On her ovn personal time. the emplovee raised more than
s1.000 tor the co-vorker bv coordinating a bake sale and other tund-
raising events.
One intervievee told ot a nurse she knev bv trst name onlv.
lacing her mother`s imminent death. the intervievee and her tamilv
staved around the clock at the hospital tor several veeks. During that
time. thev experienced the care and concern ottered bv the medical
personnel. One nurse: hovever. reallv caught their attention. She vas
kind. gentle and caring in all her interactions vith both the mother
and the tamilv. One ot the last davs ot her mother`s lite. this nurse
clocked out at the end ot her shitt but came back to the unit to spend
the tnal tvo hours vith the mother and her tamilv. 1he support the
tamilv experienced made a signitcant impression. so much so that the
intervievee has since tound a calling¨ in volunteering at a hospice to
help other tamilies in their time ot need.
A colleague told us about lackie. alvavs a quiet. unassuming mem-
ber ot the marketing team. She vorked hard. did a great job edit-
ing the companv`s nevsletter. but kept to herselt most ot the time.
Consequentlv. manv ot us vere surprised to learn ot lackie`s vork in
the communitv. Onlv vhen she asked tor a tev davs ott did ve learn
ot her commitment to a group home tor mentallv challenged kids.
CH002.indd 16 4/6/09 6:05:35 PM
Ordinarv Greatness Observed 17
She had supported the group home tor manv vears. spending
each Saturdav taking the kids to events and activities and teaching them
selt-help skills like doing laundrv and shopping tor groceries. 1he tvo
davs ott she requested vere to take the kids to Disnev World tor a vaca-
tion. lackie had put some ot her ovn monev tovard the expenses and
tound others to tnanciallv support the trip. Our marketing department
vas so inspired bv lackie`s extraordinarv commitment to these kids that
thev pooled their dollars and had special t-shirts and dutne bags printed
tor each kid to take on the trip. Because ot lackie`s commitment. our
team realized ve could do more to help others. As a result ot her quiet.
unseltsh example. ve created an adopt-a-tamilv program. and each
month ve collectivelv provide a tood basket and a bag ot household
necessities tor a local tamilv in need.
We heard about Susan trom another colleague. When I trst met
her.¨ said our colleague. I vasn`t all that impressed÷in tact. I vas a
bit undervhelmed bv her. just as I expected. given vhat I had heard
trom others. She seemed to tumble over her vords and had a habit ot
rambling on torever. Her phvsical appearance seemed to reintorce her
reputation ot not being vell organized. She dressed in baggv attire and.
vhile an attractive voman. she never vore makeup. nor did she seem
to have vhat one vould call a hairstvle.
Quite honestlv. I didn`t have high expectations tor vorking vith
Susan. I vas concerned that I vould have to micromanage her vork
to get the results ve needed. But as ve began to vork on multiple
projects. I tound her contributions to be quite valuable. Her dedication
to the vork vas obvious. and her villingness to learn vas retreshing.
1he more ve vorked together. the more I realized that Susan had
an extraordinarv intuition tor making dittcult business decisions. She
consistentlv and rationallv evaluated options and determined the best
course ot action. I tound mv initial impression ot Susan`s lack ot organ-
ization to be vrong. In tact. she vas quite the opposite. I began to
assign more projects to her team and betore long she garnered a repu-
tation as the go-to person in the companv. villing to take the lead on
the toughest projects.When the time came to tll a nevlv created admini-
strative position. Susan vas evervone`s obvious choice.¨ Our colleague vas
able to overcome an initial impression ot Susan and discover the ordi-
narv greatness that alreadv existed in her. providing an opportunitv tor
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18 ± ® ¼ · ² ¿ ® § ¹ ® » ¿ ¬ ² » - -
Susan to excel and tor the organization to capture the potential ot this
One person vho responded to our survev gave us her verv ovn
personal and povertul perspective: I detne ordinarv greatness not bv
things done in the spotlight but bv vhat is done in the quiet. seeminglv
insignitcant moments vhen the vorld is not looking.¨ It seems people
have discovered that one kev to ordinarv greatness is this: 1here is no
limit to vhat can happen vhen ve do not care vho gets the credit.
̸» Ûºº»½¬ ±º Þ´·²¼»®-
We asked a tnal question ot those ve intervieved: Which ot the tvo
questions vas the most dittcult to ansver and vhv·¨ Almost vith-
out exception. the intervievees indicated the question that probed tor
people thev personallv knov or have knovn vas more dittcult. Whv·
As one insighttul person shared. 1hev are onlv great to me: I don`t
knov it others vould see them that vav.¨ Another said. With people
ve knov. ve see their strengths. but also their veaknesses.¨Yet another
person explained. It is harder to perceive greatness in people vou see
everv dav. Sometimes it creeps up on vou.¨
1his is the ettect ot the blinders to vhich evervone is subject.
Pemember. all ot us are predisposed to associate greatness vith hov it
is packaged. something the media greatlv impacts. It creates our heroes
tor us bv portraving the rich and tamous in an elevated context. Never
mind that their personal lives are otten less than idvllic. 1heir navs
are either hidden or presented to us in a vav that talselv innuences
us. It is so much easier to identitv greatness in the tamouslv success-
tul and seeminglv superhuman individuals vho dominate the airvaves
and tabloids.
Bias and preconceived ideas also come into plav here÷the parti-
alitv that prevents our objective consideration ot a person. an issue or
situation. We viev those closest to us in a ditterent light and are undulv
innuenced in our interpretation ot their actions. Someone ve perceive as
demonstrating ordinarv greatness might not qualitv as such to a stranger.
Consider the storv behind international cosmetics giant Avon. 1he
companv`s tounder. David McConnell. vas born in 1858 in Osvego.
CH002.indd 18 4/6/09 6:05:35 PM
Ordinarv Greatness Observed 19
Nev York. He planned to become a math teacher. but instead began
selling books door to door in Nev York in 1879. As an incentive to
customers vho alloved him into their homes and listened to his sales
presentation. he gave them a small gitt÷a vial ot pertume.With the aid
ot a local chemist. he actuallv created his ovn pertume brand. vhich
vas quite popular vith his customers÷in tact. more popular than his
books. McConnell discovered that vhile his books vere a one-time
purchase. his pertume generated repeat business.
Young McConnell decided to create a companv to sell the per-
tume. He named it Avon because his hometovn in NevYork. Suttern
on the Pamapo. reminded him ot William Shakespeare`s home.
Strattord-on-Avon. McConnell launched his companv. Avon Calling. in
1886. Bv 1887. he had 12 temale emplovees selling 18 tragrances. At
the end ot his lite in 1937. Avon had a sales torce ot over 30.000 rep-
resentatives and sales volume vas in the millions. 1odav. Avon is still a
leader in national sales ot cosmetics and pertumes.
McConnell`s real genius vas in the people he selected to distrib-
ute his products. Others might viev rural housevives vith no sales
experience vho could onlv devote a portion ot their time to vork as
liabilities. McConnell sav them as the toundation ot his multinational
He clearlv understood the concept ot ordinarv greatness.
Canadian hockev enthusiast and Poval Canadian Air lorce medi-
cal ottcer Dr. Sandv Watson sav Olvmpic gold in a makeshitt team ot
amateur hockev plavers.
In 1948. Canadian hockev ottcials decided to skip that vear`s
Olvmpic Winter Games. 1his nevs so upset Dr. Watson that he took
the initiative to create a team vhere none existed. When I read the
headline saving ve÷this great hockev nation÷vould not be sending a
team. I vas ottended.¨ he said. And I thought mavbe I could do some-
thing about it.¨
Protessional hockev plavers vere ineligible tor the Olvmpics. so
vithin a vear Dr. Watson assembled a group ot hockev-plaving airmen.
At the end ot the 1948 Winter Games. the Poval Canadian Air lorce
llvers had overcome tremendous odds to tnish vith seven vins and
one tie. earning them Olvmpic gold and a place ot honor in Canada`s
Olvmpic Hall ot lame.
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Dr. Watson vent on to become one ot Canada`s eminent ophthal-
mologists. Described as a driving torce.¨ he is proot there is no limit
to our abilitv to succeed vhen ve invest ourselves in the potential ot
those around us.
Pemember. the sum total ot our upbringing. lite experiences. and
learning results in preconceived ideas about people and their behaviors.
1hese blinders are vhv ve tnd it a challenge to ansver the question.
Who are the three people vou personallv knov vho possess´possessed
greatness. and vhv·¨
Í«½½»»¼·²¹ Ü»-°·¬» Þ´·²¼»®-
One ot the areas in vhich the average person can sometimes be trusted
to spot ordinarv greatness is the movies. Sure. the big summer popcorn
blockbusters vith lots ot explosions and car chases alvavs seem to drav
a crovd. but big Hollvvood budgets and media hvpe do not alvavs
translate to box ottce receipts. Some recent examples ot movies vith
lover price tags that resonated vith the movie-going public and made
monev tor their creators are :iumoog Miiiionaire. Littie Miss :unshine. ¬n
Incon:enient lruth. and Iuno. 1hese are ordinarv¨ tlms in manv vavs.
but audiences sav greatness in their messages. or at least in their enter-
tainment value.
Noticing this trend. David Carr vrote in lhe ^euYork limes. It is
a truism ot the (movie) industrv that making even a bad movie is hard.
so making a great one must be near impossible. But the odds curiouslv
seem to go up vhen the odds are against the tlmmaker. Part ot the
reason so manv great movies come trom outside the studio apparatus is
that the lack ot big shooting budgets and help` trom the people signing
the checks torces tlmmakers to innovate. Lltimatelv. vou can`t manu-
tacture cinematic excellence: vou can onlv enable it.¨
You can`t manutacture excellence: vou can onlv enable it.¨ It
seems that tlmmakers on their ovn. vith smaller budgets. still pro-
duce hits because thev do not have the luxurv ot blinders. 1hev can-
not attord anything that vould stand betveen them and their artistic
vision. Also. thev are separated trom the Hollvvood bureaucracv. vith
its dailies.¨ notes.¨ and help.¨ so the directors and producers can
CH002.indd 20 4/6/09 6:05:36 PM
Ordinarv Greatness Observed 21
pursue vhat appears to be ordinarv greatness. Yet. to audiences. these
tlms carrv ideas and thoughts that are timeless. And in that sense. their
greatness transcends the ordinarv and becomes part ot the time capsule
tor an entire generation.
As people vork around vou. tor vou. and vith vou. is vour help
encouraging greatness or standing in its vav· Is vour legacv a big-
budget blockbuster vith lots ot vind and action that is unmemorable
(see halt ot vhat is plaving at vour local megaplex right nov. it seems).
or is it a small-budget movie vith a heart and an ordinarv but timeless
Blinders are natural inhibitors that keep us trom seeing ordinarv
greatness in those around us. While inherent to all leaders. the kev is
recognizing them and being avare ot their ettect.
Ordinarv greatness is tound in the eves ot the beholder.
Who are the people vou trst think ot vho possess ordinarv
Whv did those individuals come to mind·
Name one person vho has had an impact on vour lite vhom
vou vould characterize as great· What vas the impact this
individual made·
CH002.indd 21 4/6/09 6:05:36 PM
CH002.indd 22 4/6/09 6:05:37 PM

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