I’ve not been blogging much of late due to a number of other priorities around marking, teaching prep, research writing and conference attendance. In amongst all of that I’ve had three lovely weeks off at the start of August. For many people the summer holidays are a time to catch up with some reading. For me this largely involves Julia Donaldson books. But recently I discovered a new favourite – Yertle the Turtle by Dr Seuss. Here is why it should be required reading in every Business School.
Yertle the Turtle is a story about a King Turtle, called Yertle, who becomes increasingly power hungry. Not satisfied with his status as King of the pond he requires his subjects to work harder in order to extend his realm. As his status rises so the burden of those below him also increases to the point where they are in great pain and hunger. Yet as Yertle continues to rise high into the clouds his link with those below him becomes ever weaker and ultimately his hubris leads to his demise. It is a fantastic story (available to purchase here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/0007173148).
This is a children’s book. Like other children’s books the focus is on fair play and the importance of sharing. We constantly tell our children to play nice, to respect others, to always say please and thank-you. When do we think this should stop?
At some point our childhood learning is dismissed and replaced by mechanisms of management and governance that both enable and actively encourage individualised efforts and game playing. Team-work and shared goals are shunned and often the vision of ‘great man’ leadership is espoused. Even within education group-work for students is often avoided, especially assessed group-work, due to the problems associated with perceived ‘free-riders’. In research sole-authored academic papers are (at least in social sciences) considered superior to co-authored works. In many organisations promotion and reward criteria are often based on individual efforts and evidence of individual impact. Across corporations, and increasingly the public and Third Sectors, this mantra is reflected in the rise of CEO pay packets whilst at the same time tax avoidance and pay restraint for other employees are seen as common and accepted business practice.
Should Yertle be seen as the villain of the piece or someone to admire – ambitious, assertive and driven? Do we lose something by failing to recognise the value of sharing and team-work in business and management? Or should we tell our children different – to look after number one, that greed is good, to be ruthless in their negotiations and never trust anyone? Would that help them face the realities of life or, dare I say, improve their employability?
Should we teach our children different – or is it us who could do with a lesson?
For another example of the stories we tell see this episode of Peppa Pig in relation to debates around Brexit: