I learned a powerful idiom while I was in the Dominican Republic that I think is really helpful when applied to problems that arise in the workplace as well as in social circles. The phrase is: Es una rama del arbol pero no es el arbol. Or in English: It is a branch of the tree but it is not the tree. Sometimes people are right, but they are missing the point. They have latched onto some important part of the truth, but have missed what is really going on.
It’s particularly obvious in a place like camp, where the daily theater runs throughout the whole program, but is not the program. People who are entertaining are not necessarily leading the program. As a camp things work well when there is a blend of theater and hard work, and the people who excel at one work together with those who excel at the other.
Perhaps as a result of quarterly earnings reports, CEOs seem to do quite a bit of performance art when describing their mission, and have been doing less of setting up their companies for longer term growth. Balancing the PR “branch” with the substance of your product “tree” is something Steve Jobs always carefully planned and masterfully accomplished. But the difference between Steve Jobs’ Apple and Apple today is that it feels like each new product launch is more show than substance. (The big update in the most recent phone was now you need an extra cord to connect your headphones, so that they can have a prettier phone they made customers put the aux port on the outside… that’s dumb). They have missed the tree – and are instead just making products that go farther and farther out on one branch.
In the field of politics, many politicians are really good at presenting themselves, and it takes an informed listener to understand what they’re not saying. The “branch” of self-selling is well developed, as is the “branch” of self preservation in the form of raising money and catering to powerful individuals with the most access. But oftentimes politicians lose sight of the people they are representing and their duty to work for those people’s benefit. Take any topic of national importance, and Donald Trump, with or without the slightest real knowledge about it, would be willing to claim that he’s doing a great job at it. Donald Trump is an entertaining President. But the presidency is not entertainment. As a society, we allowed a candidate who was exceptional at one branch of the tree to win, even though he is completely lacking in so many other important branches.