Greetings. The amazing winter blizzard here in Washington, also known as the "Snowpocalyse" according to local media, provided a welcome opportunity to read by the fire and spend a few quiet hours working on my stamp collection. "Stamp collection?" you ask, since collecting stamps is not really the most popular hobby for adults in the year 2010. But it remains one of my favorite down-time activities for reasons that might be more remarkable than one imagines. First, it's a hobby I began as a child, when I spent countless hours studying these rectangular marvels from the U.S. and distant lands. Lands that I only knew about because they came to me on stamps–peaking my curiosity and causing me to find their location on a map, then learn more about them. Second, I realized at an early age that stamps often told a compelling story, in a very small space, about an equally compelling place. A story about the people who lived there and what was important to them. A story about their culture and art. Their nature and wildlife. What events in their histories were worth remembering. Their proudest accomplishments and greatest contributions. Their leaders and their views about the world around them. I could even draw conclusions about how their leaders came to power by looking closely at their stamps. And stamps also gave me the opportunity to imagine all of the far away places I might someday travel to. All in a tiny form intended to be placed on a letter.
Today, fewer and fewer people seem to collect stamps. And, in fact, we use fewer "real" stamps to send our greetings to friends, colleagues, and customers around the world. We tend to rely on email as the instant way to connect. And when we do correspond by snail mail, it is often "metered" with boring electronic "postage" that is designed to improve the speed and accuracy of its delivery…but at the same time reducing our sense of the world around us. And, as a result, most of us lose the magic of a stamp and the knowledge of other lands that once came directly to our doors. Lost knowledge that strikes at the heart of so many of the problems and challenges facing the world we share.
But what if world leaders were required to collect stamps? Stamps of neighboring countries as well as current and future allies. Stamps of countries they rarely thought about. Stamps of countries with very different ways of life and perspectives. Stamps of countries they did not have a close working relationship with. And what if collecting stamps led them to find these places more clearly on a map and to learn more about their history, their region, their special genius, and what really matters to them and their people?
We win as individuals, companies, and nations when we commit to strengthening our understanding of others and the things they value most. Maybe it's time for you, your colleagues, and a world of leaders to start collecting and learning from stamps.