July 4th, 2016
The photo above represents a learning opportunity especially relating to survival and adaptation. Recently completed by my wife Betsy[i], the artwork was inspired by our visit to the Acoma Pueblo a few months ago, which is one of the oldest continuously inhabited communities in North America. Ancestors of current residents have lived on top of a 360-foot tall rock tower since 1150 A.D.
Their previous home was located on an even more formidable tower across the valley similar to the rock mesa in the center of Betsy’s art piece. Legend has it that a bolt of lightening shattered the steep rock steps leading to their old village so the Acoma people moved to the current location.
Other than the occasional battles with other Native American tribes, the Acoma people lived for generations at a time in relative peace until interrupted by major events that would change the course of history. The first major event occurred in the form of a 50-year drought that forced the Ancestral Pueblo peoples from the Chaco Canyon to other locations throughout the Southwestern U.S.
A second history-changing event for the Pueblos began with the arrival of the Spanish around 1540. The relationship between these two very different cultures was peaceful for several decades until a series of mishaps led to the horrific Battle of Acoma Pueblo. After two days of traditional warfare, modern technology in the form of cannon proved decisive for the Spanish in winning the battle. Tragically, the Spanish officer in charge ordered savage retribution followed by many years of slavery, ultimately leading to the bloody Pueblo Revolt eight decades later when tribes joined together and drove the Spanish out of the region.
Taken together, the Acoma Massacre and Pueblo Revolt represent an extreme case of leadership failure that decision makers from all walks of life can learn from. A single horrific decision by one military leader on a single day nearly two centuries before the American Revolution still brings pain and influences decisions throughout the region over four centuries later, and no doubt influenced many a negotiation.
The centuries that followed offered more turmoil for the region under the control of Spain, Mexico, and then finally the United States in 1848, but today the Acoma people are applying modern business methods in making the best of a challenging situation, seizing opportunities, and improving their future while preserving their cultural roots and traditions. The Acoma Pueblo own and operate cultural facilities at ‘old Acoma’ as well as the Sky City Casino Hotel and travel center, which is a significant employer and economic engine on I-40 between Albuquerque and Grants, New Mexico.
In addition to visiting with the friendly people at the old pueblo, who graciously welcomed a diverse mix of international tourists during our Easter weekend tour, we also enjoyed visiting the San Esteban del Rey Mission. A Catholic mission founded in 1629 that required 12 years to complete, the church is 150 feet long with vigas spanning the entire 40-foot width. The timber used for the vigas were harvested in the San Mateo Mountains 30 miles to the north and were transported by the Acoma people by foot. The adobe walls of the church are seven foot thick at the base on one side and five on the other. Adjacent to the church is their historic cemetery made of soil carried manually up steep steps carved out of the sandstone cliffs.
The Acoma people and their story represent a fine lesson for business and community leaders in adapting to radical changes beyond their control, despite extreme culture clashes and harsh environments. Lessons learned from the Acoma Pueblo can no doubt be applied to many around the world (see UNM business case summary).
Among the most important responsibilities each of us face during our brief life is taking charge of our own learning. Only then can we begin to make decisions as independent thinkers free from indoctrination, conflicting interests or agendas of others, which is prerequisite to becoming mature adults and valuable citizens prepared to contribute, particularly in a democracy in the vital role of informed citizens and consumers. This responsibility to others and ourselves never ends in our conscious lives, so we should grasp opportunities to learn and grow at every reasonable opportunity.
Leaders have a greater responsibility to practice continuous learning in order to maintain a high state of awareness in relevant matters; particularly in the type of highly complex, tumultuous and hypercompetitive environments we face today. Those few I consider great leaders then apply wisdom gained from experiential learning to rise above short-termism to contribute more to our world than they extract.
Although much easier to claim sustainability than to achieve, important lessons on stewardship can be learned from other cultures and eras. Our Founding Fathers of the United States for example studied many cultures and governance models before collectively deciding on a specific type of democracy in our constitutional republic.
Visiting the Acoma Pueblo
The old Acoma Pueblo is located about 60 miles west of Albuquerque a few miles south of I-40 on a good paved road. We spent the night at one of several motels in Grants, NM on our visit, which is a pleasant 40-minute drive by car. Visitors must park at the Sky City Cultural Center located at the base of the rock tower, which houses the Haak’u museum, Y’aak’a Café, gift shop and conference rooms, providing an experience similar to a national park. Walking tours are regularly scheduled with a short mini bus ride from the cultural center up to the village, which consists of over 250 family-owned dwellings still without water or electricity, some portion of which are still full-time residents with the remainder used by families during cultural and religious ceremonies.
About the author:
Mark Montgomery is the founder and CEO of Kyield, which has been a pioneer at the confluence of human and machine intelligence for two decades.
[i] Though quite similar to ‘Old’ Acoma Pueblo, it is not a replica. Betsy has a unique style of mortar sculpture over wood with different thicknesses for depth perception and shapes, natural woods, and oil paint.