Paul Cummins is a ceramic artist who lives in the city of Derby, the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. He came across a poem written by an unknown fallen British soldier, it read: “The blood-swept lands and seas of red, where angels fear to tread.” Paul, who is dyslexic, said in an interview that as he read those words he saw a field of red. This became his inspiration to embark on a quest to craft 888,246 handmade ceramic poppies for the stunning art installation surrounding the Tower of London, commemorating the centenary of the outbreak of The Great War.
Now our research into the power of leadership quests decoded what makes a quest such a powerful force of change. We identified that people on quests achieve remarkable things because they are doing three things:
Paul certainly challenged the impossible during his crazy quest. His dream of installing 888,246 ceramic poppies had set in motion the mammoth task of crafting 7,000 poppies every day over a six-month period. He was used to working alone out of a small studio, but this quest required an army of dedicated people. He stubbornly refused to mass produce the poppies in China, wanting each poppy to be handmade, representing the unique soul of a life lost too young. Using 100-year-old techniques, massive blocks of clay were squashed flat in huge industrial hand-powered rollers. Every one of the 888,246 ceramic poppies were then cut out, lovingly hand crafted by skilled artisans and placed in massive kilns, which burned hot for 23-hours a day, seven-days a week. At the culmination over 25,500 people contributed, many of them volunteers, to bring the dream of 888,246 poppies in the moat surrounding the Tower of London to life.
One person and his dream achieved something rather remarkable here. Five million people visited the installation. It gave meaning to thousands of families who lost relatives in The Great War, and reminded all of us of their ultimate sacrifice – Lest we forget. For a period of time the installation became the most photographed image on Instagram. Each poppy was sold for £25 raising over £15-million for charities.
This story is testimony that one person can make the world they touch a better place. By thinking big, having a grand dream and striving to do something meaningful Paul was able to reach out, to inspire millions of people and deliver remarkable benefits.
Hopefully this is your inspiration as you read this. It doesn’t matter who you are, what you do or what position you hold, in whatever organisation – crazy impossible ideas catch on. They can inspire complete strangers to come together, collaborate and achieve remarkable things.
And here is a most powerful thing about today’s shifting world: It is getting easier and easier for anyone, anywhere to come up with a crazy idea and make a difference.
It doesn’t matter who you are, what you do, or your position or your organisation –
Dean van Leeuwen is on a quest to inspire half-a-billion people to become questers He is an author, TEDx speaker and expert on leadership, future trends, strategy and competitive advantage. He is a faculty member of CEDEP — The European Centre for Executive Development located on the INSEAD campus near Paris and is a guest lecturer at the Oxford and Henley Business Schools. As a successful entrepreneur he co-founded TomorrowToday Global, a consultancy that helps leaders to navigate turbulent times. His book Quest: Competitive Advantage and the Art of Leadership in the 21st Century, is available from Amazon in print and kindle.