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Pygmalion or Michelangelo?

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Two artists. After some disappointments with real women, one of them creates a sculpture. He changed something here, polished there. After a while his ideal image of a woman emerges. The sculpture becomes part of his daily life. He treats the sculpture as if she were real. One day he asks the gods to send him a woman like her. In the evening, returning home from a celebration, she feels warm to him. Suddenly he can feel with his own fingers, blood is running through the veins of his beloved woman. His sculpture came alive.

The other artist just recently had a new block of stone delivered to his workshop. Marble. He puts the stone in a place where he can walk around it. Where he can look at it from all sides and watch how different lights of the day change the appearance. After a while he starts to take parts off. With a hammer and a chisel he works his way forward. He wants to deduct the form from the material. The dusty air makes it nearly impossible to see the fi gure that is actually emerging. Sometimes it seems weird to him: Why should this corner be harder than the other? How does he know which line to follow, what to take away? Piece by piece Michelangelo discovers the fi gure inside the stone. He just needs to take away the raw parts. Later he would say: with every block of stone I was trying to find what was already there. I saw the figure hidden inside.


Professional and personal development

Why do I, who rarely work with art, write an article about it? Pygmalion and Michelangelo can also be applied to professional and personal development. How are my assumptions shaping my way to deal with people? Do I try to get to the core of a person, where do his or her talents and values lie? Or do I have clearly defined requirements, which a staff member needs to fulfill and work towards him fitting into the picture? Do I try to find out where my own talents lie and search for opportunities to apply these competences? Do I aim to use the talents of my staff members at its best? Or do I think about the requirements for a task or a project and look for the colleagues that can best fulfill these tasks?


Both approaches have their advantages and rights to exist. They might only develop their full power when you combine them. However, it seems to us that currently Pygmalion rules the worlds of professional development. Defined profiles that people apply for. Persons who adapt to the presented frameworks and neglect other important talents and essential parts of themselves. Weaknesses are “eliminated”.


I would like to see more Michelangelo next to all the Pygmalion in the working world. I would wish that our educational institution motivate students to explore their talents and strengths; to give people the opportunity to express the potential hidden inside block of stone.