Unlike George Bush, who famously cited The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle as one of his favourite books from his childhood despite it having been published when he was 23, I was born after its publication and have very fond memories of reading it as a child. This year marks its 40th anniversary, and it is still a much-loved classic. Yesterday also marked the beginning of spring, building a flourish of activity around all symbols of new birth and fresh growth.
Our childhood favourites stay with us throughout life – walking past the windows of bookstores, we smile as we stare in and remember Dogger, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, The Little Engine That Could. When our own children appear, we seek out these old classics, wanting to impart the same warm, fuzzy feelings we had when we read them, and pass the eternally entertaining stories down to another generation of Very Hungry Children.
If such classics remain with us throughout life, surely there is something we can learn from them even as adults? After all, most of us read more than three or four books as young children, but only a few stick with us. Why? What lessons can we learn from them, and how can we use them to make ourselves more accessible as businesspeople?
When I was studying Philosophy at university, I scribbled down on a piece of paper: ‘Simplicity is the gateway to complexity’. It is a thought that has stayed with me throughout life, and one I try to apply on a practical level day after day. Grasping complex subjects can be taxing; at the moment, I am trying to learn more about quantum physics; a field which both fascinates and terrifies me. Yet some of the books on this most complex of subjects use the simplest language and the most straightforward analogies to make the ideas accessible to anyone with even a vague interest in physics and mathematics. If they can do it, so can we. In business, life is complicated; employees will get it wrong from time to time; and so will we. Yet trying to find simple, fun ways of explaining what you want to do and why will be easier to understand, and who knows? Perhaps you’ll get a few smiles out of the Monday morning meeting.
Sometimes, reminding people that they have potential is all you need to do to motivate them into using it. The routine of arriving at the office, sitting down, turning on the computer, checking your emails and so on becomes so monotonous that we all forget why the job was given to us in the first place. Interviewers see potential: they note the qualities a future colleague will bring to the company and hire them largely on this basis. The idea is not to forget about this as soon as you’ve started. Remembering why it was that people were initially hired and trying to build on this will create a workplace in which everyone will be able to use their own initiative to further the company’s goals.
Let It Be
The Beatles said it, so it must be true. Sometimes we can read too much into things; sometimes we don’t see as much of the picture as people would hope. Sometimes (which is all too easy to forget) employees need a break. Does it really matter if Maria doesn’t quite have that proposal finished yet? If Carla’s having a bad day? If Martha spends five more minutes on lunchbreak than usual? We give ourselves leeway if something crops up, and doing the same for the people we employ makes them more likely to work hard in the long run. Making a big fuss over tiny things, reading too much into things people say, and becoming irritated by ‘the way she’s doing X’ is easy to understand, and therefore can be easy to dismiss. But never underestimate the value of your words and actions. People are easily discouraged, especially from work. Remembering that the people working with you are human beings too, and that they deserve at least as much respect, leeway and thoughtfulness as you do is a valuable office rule.
Well, there you have it. A whole post based around The Very Hungry Caterpillar, which just goes to show that the simplest things in life should not be underestimated! What tips do you have for keeping your office life happy? Where do you find inspiration? Children’s books? The natural world? Wikipedia? I’d love to hear your thoughts.