Guest post by Aarti Shyamsunder, who has posted here earlier.
Fairy tales, fables, fiction. We grow up on them, and then forget them, and try to forge some legends of our own, in business and in life. We battle our own idiosyncratic evil witches, look for fairy god-mothers and Prince Charmings, wearing our glass slipper occasionally but watching it fall away as well. Into the abyss of profit margins, quarterly results, research and ass-kissing.
It may seem quaint and naïve to believe in fairytales, but it’s not that different from believing in modern myths is it? The myth of a fearless leader who will lead us to triumph over recessions and corruption, of high-tech gadgets and flashy cars that will let us live happily ever after, and of that elusive promotion or bonus that will bring us the ‘crown’.
So instead of these delusions, how about bringing the magic of those ancient stories back into our work lives? If we look carefully, there’s probably more to them than advice on how to snag royal spouses. Here are a few ideas to get started…
- Goldilocks and the Three Bears: The story of the little girl Goldilocks who wandered into the home of the three bears, and found that while Mama Bear’s and Papa Bear’s stuff was beyond her reach, Baby Bear’s porridge, chair and bed were all ‘just right’ for her. This story has inspired many analogies, including the idea of a Goldilocks Planet where conditions are ‘just right’ for life as we know it. Taking inspiration for business, one of the best-established axioms is from Goal-Setting Theory – goals that are challenging, specific and achievable are more motivational than mere ‘do your best’ goals. We may have come to know and love these as ‘SMART’ goals but it’s more fun to think of Goldilocks goals, right? Set your sights on something that’s neither too easy nor too difficult, build on ‘just right’ successes and move that dial up (to 11, even!) towards more and more challenging goals.
- The Frog Prince: This fairytale has undergone many avatars over time. Some involve a spoiled princess who has to kiss a frog in order to retrieve a golden ball that’s fallen in a pond, others require her to let the frog spend three nights on her bed (with her in it! Hmm..shady!). In all versions, it ends with the frog miraculously transforming into a handsome prince who of course, marries said spoiled princess and they live happily ever after. Be that as it may, this story has some interesting implications for entrepreneurs and change agents. Starting up a new business is not all glamorous, and one may need to wade through swamps after elusive golden balls, kiss more than just frogs and watch them turn into worse creatures instead of morphing into handsome princes in the form of angel investors. If one keeps at it, though, and tries new approaches, the fairy tale could come true…just be open to the form that the frog prince might take!
- The Emperor’s New Clothes: Now this story is one for the times. Duped by weavers who claimed to make cloth that would be invisible to anyone who’s ‘unfit’ for their role, the emperor parades around naked until a child calls it like he sees it (or doesn’t see it, rather!). So many business metaphors here. How many times have we come across such weavers – literal ‘spin-doctors’ – who confuse and confound us with their theories and their data? And claiming to not understand them would make us seem unfit or foolish so we hold tight, until it’s too late and the world finds out that we have no clothes on. Also, think about the vain-glorious and foolish emperor who is too blind to accept that he’s being taken for a ride – sounds like a lot of our leaders, right? But let’s not forget the good part – the part where the voice of truth and innocence is heard and validated. Let’s stay in touch with that voice within us that’s unafraid to question and comment on what is going on.
So what’s your favorite fairytale and how closely does it mirror the truth of your work? What about it inspires you, and what moral does it hold for you? With due apologies to Mr. Hendrix, let your circus mind run wild…butterflies and zebras and moonbeams and fairytales…if it’s good enough for a song, it’s good enough for life!