Dr. Dee was a Dummkopf

    Any subject is good for opera if the composer feels it so intently he must sing it out. -Gian Carlo Menotti

Last weekend we went to see a new opera at the English National Opera.  By new, I mean two things; a modern opera and also new to me.  We saw Dr Dee: An English Opera created by theatre director Rufus Norris and musician and composer Damon Albarn in 2011.  Definitely not classical opera, supposedly it was inspired by comic book author Alan Moore and based on the life of John Dee, medical and scientific advisor to Queen Elizabeth I in the mid-1500s.  Actually, he was described as a “consultant” to the Queen, which explains a lot, to me at least.

I must say the staging was impressive and a visual treat, especially the giant accordion-page books (you needed to be there to understand). They even had live crows, and some pretty scary ones in the cast on stage as well.  It was such a cacophony of visual images and emotional portrayals of strange characters that I didn’t find myself being nudged by my daughter for napping half way through.

But the reason I have titled this posting, Dr. Dee was a Dummkopf (roughly translated as “stupid person”) concerns the main message of the story.  Dr. John Dee was so enamoured with learning, his scientific theories, and his role as a consultant to Queen Elizabeth (he even taught navigation to those making the historic sea explorations for England at the time), that he totally ignored his wife and daughter, spending all of his time “at his work”. In the end he lost his family and wound up leading a miserable life in disgrace by those who once revered him.

Opera does take its roots from real life, and in this case, we find a workaholic, enthralled with learning, but even more so, seduced by the praise and accolades heaped upon him.  Not unlike today’s modern workaholic who gets praise and accolades from his colleagues at the law firm for putting in the most billable hours, or the consultant who is the envy of the office for her massive frequent flier miles.  Or the senior executive who spends so much time at the office he knows the names of the night janitor’s children, but forgets his own anniversary.

Workaholism is a strong drug, and as we see in the case of Dr. John Dee, is not just a modern addiction.

Go to the opera sometime, you can learn a lot about life, assuming you don’t sleep through the whole thing because you’ve been working late all week!

Tight Lines . . .

John R Childress


About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at john@johnrchildress.com or john.childress@theprincipiagroup.com
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3 Responses to Dr. Dee was a Dummkopf

  1. Steve Borek says:

    When I first started my career in the computer industry, I’d say I was a workaholic. As the years went by, I became less so. I learned a lot in these last three decades. http://endgamebusiness.com/blog/coulda-woulda-shoulda/

    Then one day it happened. I was introduced to the coaching profession. I no longer work. I’m passionate about getting people, mostly business people like C-level typez and their teams, to where they want to go quicker.

    In regards to opera. I’ve seen it on tv and heard it on the radio. For some reason, I don’t care for it. This opinion comes from a man who loves theatre! In fact, I’ve produced eight plays (community theatre) and been involved with a half dozen others.

    Maybe if the last Ms. Steve comes along, and she’s enamored with opera, I’ll purchase two tickets front row, stage left.


  2. mimijk says:

    I think one gets seduced by the rhythm of the environment in which one works (this presumes that you’re a moderately competitive person and are driven to keep pace with those around you), and it takes determination to step away, remember our priorities and then act accordingly. Do I rue the days I was at my son’s baseball games, while also listening to a conference call on my cell phone? How many vacations did my husband go play some golf, while I was in the business center? Too many. How many C-level people do this? Too many. As I’ve said, I believe you are engaging in trade-offs all the time – and one has to be pretty grounded in their purpose and awareness of what really matters. If one veers off course, sometimes one cannot return and has to chart a new course. Ideally one doesn’t lose himself/herself in the process. Great post John..


  3. teebob says:

    thanks for sharing. I love your work and thanks for sharing your thoughts.


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