If you’ve read anything I have written over the years, you’ve probably figured out that I love stories that put management principles into action, even when they don’t seem to have anything to do with business. My thought is that they are much more memorable than classroom exercises, and certainly a lot more entertaining. Here are a few of my recent favorites.
The greedy wolf: On a hot day, a wolf was feeling very hungry. He searched the forest, but he caught only a small hare. Disappointed, he thought, “This hare can’t fill my stomach.”
Just as the wolf was about to kill the hare, a deer ran by. The greedy wolf thought, “Instead of this small hare, let me eat that big deer.”
He released the hare and chased the deer. But the deer was too fast, and it vanished into the forest. The wolf now regretted letting the hare go.
Moral: Consider keeping what’s in your hand before chasing something better.
The same problems: People in a village had been complaining about the same problems to a wise man many times. One day he told them a joke, and everyone roared in laughter. After a couple of minutes, he told them the same joke and only a few of them smiled.
When he told the same joke for the third time, no one laughed anymore.
The wise man smiled and said: “You can’t laugh at the same joke over and over. So why are you always crying about the same problem?”
Moral: Don’t keep worrying about the same problems. Either solve them or move on.
The boulder in the road: A king had a boulder placed on a roadway, then hid and watched to see if anyone would move the boulder out of the way.
Some of the kingdom’s wealthiest merchants and courtiers came by and simply walked around it. Many of them loudly blamed the king for not keeping the roads clear.
Then a peasant came along pushing a cart of vegetables. As he approached the boulder, the peasant set his cart aside and tried to push the stone out of the road. After much pushing and straining, he finally succeeded.
Then he noticed a purse lying in the road where the boulder had been. The purse contained many gold coins and a note from the king, explaining that the gold was for the person who removed the boulder from the roadway.
Moral: Every obstacle we come across in life gives us an opportunity to improve our circumstances.
Checking in: How am I doing? On the bus, an older man happened to overhear a young woman talking on her cellphone. “Hello, could I speak to your sales director please? Yes, I’m calling about the sales position you advertised three months ago? Is that still open? No? Well, is there any chance of it opening up again soon? May I ask why not? Really, that good? Well, thank you.”
The man turned and said, “I don’t usually listen to other people’s phone conversations, but I happened to overhear yours. I’m sorry the job you’re trying to get isn’t available anymore.”
“Oh, that’s not it at all,” the young woman said with a smile. “That’s where I just started working three months ago. I was just calling to see how they think I’m doing. The sales director said his newest salesperson is doing a fantastic job, so I must be doing all right.”
Moral: Don’t take your success for granted.
Lessons from the duck: How big is a duck? Oh, about two feet long, maybe. Have you ever seen a duck move through water on a lake? You don't see its feet paddling under water, but let me tell you, the duck really moves.
For me, what was impressive was to look at the wake the duck left behind as it moved forward. WOW! It opened up an angle of at least 40 degrees and the water rippled as far as 40 to 50 feet, maybe even more. That's a lot. Think about it, that duck left a wake that's 600 times its actual size. That's a lot of effect from a duck that's only two feet long.
Moral: Every big wave started out as a little ripple.
Life and business teach us lessons every day. Be on the lookout -- sometimes the best ideas and solutions are right in front of us.
Mackay’s Moral: Always keep your eyes -- and your mind -- open.