Posted by Whistler 1100 words
I posted on the local government reading test a while ago and a few colleagues have commented that many management books are written as simple parables, almost like children’s books, to help convey complex information. One of my children reminded me of some of their early ‘management’ reading and I thought I would post on it.
- ‘The Lorax’ by Dr Seuss (61 pages)
I will start with the longest of the books, though none of them is by any measure a challenging read. Even though they were written by a doctor, he has included lots of pictures to ease the journey for the weary reader.
This is the ultimate societal and organizational sustainability tale. The faceless Once-ler, who communicates using the Whisper-ma-Phone to protect his secrets, ravages the landscape by removing all of the Truffula trees to make Thneeds – a thing that everyone needs.
Only the pesky Lorax speaks about the impact of chopping the trees, the displacement of the native Bar-ba-loots, the smogulous smoke preventing the Swomee-Swans from singing, or the glumping of the pond where the Humming-Fish lived.
The unsustainable exploitation of a finite resource plays out to its inevitable end with the Thneed business failing and the only possible redemption is the one Truffala tree seed kept by the Once-ler. Even the Lorax has cleared out by now.
Now that the damage has been done the Once-ler wants to make amends. I won’t elaborate further on the story except to ask, how often have you heard the inexperienced senior managers in local government say that something high impact, which upset a lot of workers and wasted a lot of resources, was, with hindsight, not such a great idea? They put it down to learning. I don’t. I expect that by the time people get into such influential roles that they have worked long enough and made enough smaller attempts at change to understand what they are doing.
- ‘I had trouble in getting to Solla Sollew’ by Dr Seuss (59 pages)
The story follows a troubled young fellow from the Valley of Vung who meets a chap on a One-Wheeler Wubble travelling to the City of Solla Sollew. He encourages the young fellow to join him because in Solla Sollew they have no troubles.
Anyone who has worked in local government is probably becoming suspicious of the story by now – a municipality with no troubles? No rate capping? No councilor conflicts? No Executive bottlenecks? You need to suspend disbelief and remember that although a doctor wrote the book, it is a work of fiction.
The journey to Solla Sollew is not without incident. The Wubble-camel becomes ill and a camel doctor is hard to find. When he tries to catch a bus it has been cancelled indefinitely. The President of the bus company, using a contemporary communication strategy wishes him a ‘most pleasant journey by feet’. The journey goes on.
After tumultuous storms, flooding, a battle with the Perilous Poozers under the leadership of General Genghis Kahn Schmitz, a miraculous escape through a vent, and re-emergence at the River Wah-Hoo, he eventually arrives at Solla Sollew.
I suppose this is where local government comes into its own. The glittering city has a path to the entrance where a Doorman stands with a key. He welcomes the fellow from the Valley of Vung before confessing that the door remains closed because of the Key-Slapping Slippard that prevents his key being put into the lock. With that, he announces he is now off to the neighbouring municipality of Boola Boo Ball, where there are genuinely no troubles.
This behavior will also be familiar to those with experience in local government. There is always somewhere else with less problems than where you are, and when you have failed to get on top of the problems you have, especially if you have aggravated them, it is a good time to move on. Hopefully to a promotion!
The young fellow is a sensible chap and he decides to return to his original set of problems in the Valley of Vung. For some senior managers in local government, this could be a bit like returning to the scene of a crime. Hopefully not.
- ‘Oh, the Places You’ll Go!’ by Dr Seuss (44 pages)
This is a personal favourite. It is about a journey that could be any life journey – i.e. through childhood and adolescence into adulthood. It could as easily be a professional development journey or the journey an organisation takes (I do hate using the work ‘journey’, and I apologise if it makes me sound like someone in psychotherapy). It is a story of self-determination.
I won’t list all of the places because it will spoil the book for a first time reader. I will just talk about my favourites that have some relevance to local government. The first is when the protagonist takes flight in a balloon.
You won’t lag behind, because you’ll have the speed.
You’ll pass the whole gang and you’ll soon take the lead.
Wherever you fly, you’ll be the best of the best.
Wherever you go, you will top the rest.
Apart from the potential for creation of a narcissist in offering this advice it effectively conjures up the vision of people floating past you attached to a balloon inflated by someone else – the ‘leg up’ that senior managers offer to people they know and trust, rather than following fairer and more objective selection processes. But it isn’t always smooth sailing when you are out of your depth or at too high an altitude.
Dr Seuss has obviously seen people rise too high, for upon turning the page he describes being ‘… all hung up on a prickle-ly perch. And your gang will fly on. You’ll be left in the Lurch.’ Coming down from the Lurch, you risk being in a Slump. And, as he says, ‘unslumping yourself is not easily done’.
The most concerning place visited is the Waiting Place. Here people are just standing or sitting around waiting – for the toilet, for the phone to ring, for the bus to move, for a fish to bite, or for someone to arrive. It is described by Dr Seuss as ‘the most useless space’.
I have studied the picture and tried to work out if anyone is waiting for a career opportunity, the great pastime of many middle managers with ambition in local government. Maybe the man in the uniform perched near the phone. The couch full of ‘people’ waiting could be the foyer of any civic centre. Our lack of understanding of demand gives people plenty of opportunities to wait.