The assignment for Wednesday is to read a children's book and write about the lessons to be learned for your profession or career. As an example, I offered what I wrote about Amelia Bedelia when my daughter was in elementary school:
Like many of you, I wear two hats. By day, I work for Accenture’s resources operating group out of the Houston office; the rest of the time, I’m the mother of seven-year-old Emily. Being a bibliophile for most of my life, I originally had some concerns that my brain would atrophy as the books I opened most often had more pictures than words. But I assure you, I was wrong. The expanded diversity in my reading matter has had unexpected benefits. Stepping away from all the serious stuff provides a slightly different perspective on my world, both personally and professionally (you just can’t read about the stubbornness of north-bound and south-bound Zaxes without doing some serious self-examination). In fact, in most of the best children’s literature, I’ve discovered an untapped network of experts on topics of vital interest to consultants, mommies, and people in general.
Take Amelia Bedelia, for example (who, by the way, never goes by just “Amelia”). She’s been one of my daughter’s favorite characters for about a year now. If you ask her why she likes Amelia Bedelia, Emily will answer, “Because she makes me laugh and, after a while, I can tell what she’s going to do…(pause)…and because there are no bad guys.” I can understand that completely. When I think about it for a minute, that’s a pretty good description of the best work and/or teams I’ve experienced: I enjoyed them, I acquired a sense of mastery, and there weren’t any bad guys.
At the beginning of her first book, Amelia Bedelia has just been hired by Mr. and Mrs. Rogers to provide housekeeping services. In a brief suspension of reality (ever notice how good children are at that? and how bad adults are??), the Rogers leave Amelia Bedelia in their home on her first day of work with a list of duties to be performed and instructions to “do just what the list says.” Some of the items on the list:
- Change the towels in the green bathroom
- Dust the furniture
- Draw the drapes when the sun comes in
- Measure two cups of rice
Though she doesn’t understand why she’s being asked to do things that make no sense to her, Amelia Bedelia fulfills every request. Using scissors, she cuts artistic designs into the towels, then hopes she’s changed them enough. She locates the “dusting powder” in the bathroom and thoroughly dusts the furniture, admitting that it does smell nice. When the sun comes through the drapes, she sits right down and draws a lovely picture of those drapes. She finds two cups, fills them with rice, carefully measures (“4 ½ inches”), and then pours the rice back into the container. With good humor, she acknowledges that “these folks sure want me to do funny things” and continues with her list.
Oh, and while accomplishing everything on her list, Amelia Bedelia takes the initiative to throw together “a little of this and a pinch of that” to create the best lemon meringue pie Mr. and Mrs. Rogers have ever tasted. Good thing, too, because that pie is the only thing that keeps Amelia Bedelia employed. Being able to eat pie that terrific is worth a little adjustment in communication style (“undust the furniture” and “close the drapes”).
As I read (and read and read and read…you get the picture) this book, I began to see some messages for me in my role as a consultant:
- A little suspension of reality may be required to finish the story… or to reach a positive outcome. Try to suspend judgment that it won’t/can’t work; maybe you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
- Good communication is more of an art than a science. Hang around enough to be sure the message you think you are sending is the one being received.
- It’s not always easy working with creative or innovative people…but there’s generally a really good reason to do so.
- Nurturing creativity (I’d settle for just not killing it) requires some adjustments all the way around. If we “adjust” the creative folks into alignment with the rest of us, we’ve just destroyed the very thing that makes them so valuable.
- Most of us take ourselves—and our deliverables—just a wee bit too seriously. Mistakes in our industry are generally not life threatening…unless we’re the ones making the threats. We learn from our mistakes because they are inherently painful, not necessarily because someone else beats us up.
- Sometimes it’s the little, unasked-for things we do for clients—the ones they haven’t expected, but end up valuing—that cement our relationship with them.
The big message: If we are truly open to learning, we can find knowledge in the most unlikely places.
Many years removed, in a different place and time, I'm curious what the students will submit. Stay tuned.