King Midas and the Golden Touch

When I speak about deep understanding of deep meaning, I usually explain the concepts, argue for their business relevance, and then invite my audience to practice the process of developing a deep understanding of deep meaning by looking for it within a story. For the real-time interactive experience, I usually raise some business questions to define a business perspective, tell a story that the audience is invited to discuss and analyze for business relevance and business insights, and then moderate the discussion that follows. Even though the story that I present and offer as the basis of discussion is generally not widely recognized as a business story, audiences usually accept it as a business story within the perspective I establish. They find business relevance.

You might want to explore your own ability to look for and find deep understanding of deep meaning in a story.

It occurs to me that even if you can’t attend one of my talks and participate in such a discussion, you might want to explore your own ability to look for and find deep understanding of deep meaning in a story. So I’ll present a story for you to analyze on your own, along with some starter questions to get you going. You won’t have the benefit of interacting with a larger audience and responding to comments and insights from others, but it’ll be a start. If you find this exercise useful, maybe you can bring me to your workplace or come to one of my upcoming talks (see the Upcoming Events page on the Group Atlantic website).

I usually present a story that isn’t generally recognized as a business story. I raise starter questions before I tell the story, to establish a business context to turn the story into a business story. However, the story I’m going to present here is all about money (actually gold), and the segue from the story to business isn’t much of a stretch. So I’ll just present the story first and then raise questions and issues that I find suggested by the story. If you find other connections between the story and business, please explore them. If you’d like to tell me about them, please call or write me; I’ll welcome your thoughts.

Here’s the story:

Even King Midas’s normal life seemed to be blessed by the gods. He ruled a stable and prosperous realm, a realm so stable and so prosperous that he didn’t have to work hard to keep it thriving. He had a personal fortune—riches beyond reckoning. He had a daughter he adored and who adored him in return.

Then Midas met a god face to face—the amiable Olympian Dionysus. Midas pleased Dionysus by returning a wandering satyr to the god’s entourage. Dionysus offered Midas a reward: any favor that the king would request.

Despite his blessings and his already vast wealth, Midas wanted more. He valued gold above all else that came to mind. So he requested the Golden Touch, the miraculous power to turn anything to gold with even the most minimal physical contact. Dionysus demurred; did Midas really want the Golden Touch? Oh yes. Yes. Yes. Absolutely. Indubitably. Unequivocally. 

Dionysus acceded. He granted Midas the Golden Touch.

Midas touched a nearby table. The table turned into gold. Midas touched a tree. The tree turned into gold. Midas touched rocks and stones and vines and all manner of things. Everything turned into gold.

To celebrate, Midas ordered a feast for himself and his daughter. Soon the feast lay before them. Midas sat himself into a chair at the head of the table. The chair turned into gold. Midas took a piece of the bread. Before he could bring the bread to his mouth, the bread turned into gold. Midas lifted a goblet that held a draught of wine. Before Midas could drink, the goblet and the wine in it turned into gold.

Midas quickly recognized his predicament. He grew distraught. His daughter rose from her place at the table and went to embrace and comfort her father. As soon as the girl touched him, she too turned into gold.

Many of the Olympian gods habitually disregarded any harm they did to mortals. But not Dionysus. When Midas begged the god to free him from the Golden Touch and restore his ordinary human capabilities, Dionysus allowed Midas to wash away the Golden Touch and its impacts and then to return to life as he had known it before the god had favored him. Afterward, Midas lived without further tragedy (although not without further trauma) until the end of his days.  

Here are some starter questions. 

I encourage you to explore any connections to business that you find in the story and any related insights you develop. Here are some starter questions that I find relevant.

Starter questions:

  • How might you map elements in the story into conventional elements of business today?
    • What is the business?
    • Who is the customer?
    • What in the story is “of value” and to whom? Does the story help you understand “value” deeply?
  • Within those terms, what do you think of the characters as businessmen (or in the case of Midas’ daughter, businesswoman)?
  • This story is generally recognized as a morality tale about the folly of greed.
    • What might Gordon Gekko (Wall Street: “Greed is good.”) make of the story? How might he tell it?
    • What business issues besides greed can be explored deeply based on the story? 

For a bit more about the importance of a deep understanding of deep meaning of a business challenge—and a story you might recognize—See Part 1 – 3 Little Pigs Do 3 Construction Projects: Why Did Only One Project Succeed?

For an exploration of deep understanding of deep meaning of a business challenge—or of a story—See Part 2 – Deep Understanding of Deep Meaning: What Is It?

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Suzie Garfield

Suzie Garfield has decades of experience in the worlds of business, technology, education, and performance. As a computer programmer, teacher, trainer, storyteller, coach, and mentor, Suzie faces any question or challenge with an exploratory, agile, "yes-and" approach. Suzie holds Bachelor's and Master's degrees in Mathematics and in Literature, a Ph.D. in Humanities/Comparative Literature, an MBA, and certification as a PMP. As a developer of business application systems and a project leader and manager, she has seen again and again how intention, expression, and interpretation converge to support and to subvert business and technological relationships, outcomes, and results. Suzie shares her insights into how verbal and quantitative processes impact real-world outcomes and how a deep understanding of the products and services we envision enables us to build and deliver them.