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Business Lessons from an Unlikely Source: Children’s Books

Business Lessons from an Unlikely Source: Children’s Books


    Being the father of a 5-year-old, my reading on succeeding in business often includes two classics of business that my daughter also likes: ‘The Little Engine That Could’ and ‘Green Eggs and Ham’.

    These business books take two very different approaches to business and to me, ‘Green Eggs and Ham’ is the clear winner.

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    Both books deal with the same scenario: you face a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. In ‘Green Eggs and Ham’, Sam I Am (our protagonist) needs to sell a plate of food to a customer who presents a valid argument against the purchase: he doesn’t like green eggs and ham. For the engine in ‘The Little Engine That Could’, he needs to climb a mountain while hauling clowns and animals.

    ‘The Little Engine that Could’ is the guidebook for people who confuse effort with results, and is a triumph against the odds. This theme makes for great movies (or children’s books), but is a bad strategy in business. Here’s what’s so terribly wrong about The Little Engine and his chances of succeeding:

    • He is totally unprepared. He wasn’t in shape to climb the mountain.
    • He had no resources. He was an Engine on tracks; he had no flexibility in his goal.
    • Despite this, he lost his focus on getting over the hill — reducing his chances to overcome his obstacle by taking on more clowns and animals at each stop. while well-intentioned, he risks failure by reducing his chances of success.

    Our little Engine — our Rocky Balboa of the railroad set — certainly achieved the impossible. He was setting himself up to fail, yet didn’t because of the author’s simplistic, misguided belief of the following:

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    “If we just try hard enough, it will happen.”

    A lot of business books appear to be based on this. That said, a lot of business books are fit only to keep wobbly tables from rocking back and forth.

    Let’s compare this with Sam I Am from the Dr. Seuss classic:

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    • Sam is prepared – nothing in the book indicates that he was somehow unfit to do the pitch.
    • Sam has multiple resources – foxes, boxes, trains, planes, cars & boats are all at his disposal in order to help sell through the situation. Sam had a network to support him.
    • Sam was focused on his goal – to sell-in those green eggs and ham, but was willing to change his approach.
    • Sam built upon the sell-in incrementally. He didn’t start with all the resources at his disposal, he started small and built upon them incrementally. During this time, he was building a rapport with the potential customer, even though repeatedly rejected. Sam didn’t let rejection stop him, and never took it personally, but used it to alter his approach, and his positive attitude throughout prevented him from becoming off-putting – his customer never rejected Sam as a person.
    • Sam was clear in his message and did not make the mistake that many salespeople do: he asked for the business, clearly and unequivocally.
    • Sam did not dilute his message by offering green coffee, or throwing in a complementary happy meal toy to attempt to get the sale in the face of obstacles. He believed in his product and showed persistence, dedication, and flexibility by offering the customer numerous options while staying on-message.

    In the end, Sam I Am showed the more realistic business approach — combined with a solid work ethic — and was provided the resources and training to succeed. (It is also perhaps the only business book written that rhymes.)

    While both protagonists had the will to succeed, Sam was set for success with his adaptability, focus, and understanding of the marketplace.

    So…would you rather have Sam marketing your product or that Engine?

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    (Photo credit: Children Enjoying Reading via Shutterstock)

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    Last Updated on October 9, 2018

    How to Write a Personal Mission Statement to Ensure Peak Productivity

    How to Write a Personal Mission Statement to Ensure Peak Productivity

    Most of you made personal, one sentence resolutions like “I want to lose weight” or “I vow to go back to school.” It is a tradition to start the New Year with things you want to achieve, but under the influence resolutions are often unrealistic.

    If you’re wondering when will be a good time to write a mission statement, NOW is the time to take a personal inventory to make this year your most productive year ever. You may be asking yourself, “How am I going to do that?” You, my friends, are going to write personal mission statements.

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    A large number of corporations use mission statements to define the purpose of the company’s existence. Sony wants to “become the company most known for changing the worldwide poor-quality image of Japanese products” and 3M wants “to solve unsolved problems innovatively”. A personal mission statement is different than a corporate mission statement, but the fundamentals are the same.

    So why do you need one? A personal statement will help you identify your core values and beliefs in one fluid tapestry of content that you can read anytime and anywhere to stay on task toward success.

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    For example, Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire came to the realization that he had lost track of what was important to him. After writing a personal mission statement, we saw him start his own business and he got the girl, Renee Zelleweger. Not bad, wouldn’t you say? A personal mission statement will make sure that, through all the texting, emailing and constant bombardment of on-the-go activity, you won’t lose sight of what is most important to you.

    Mission statements can be simple and concise while others are longer and filled with detail. The length of your personal mission statement will not be determined until you follow this simple equation to create your motivational springboard for 2008.

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    To begin your internal cleansing, you will need to jot down the required information in the following five steps:

    1. What are your values? Values steer your actions and determine where you spend time, energy, and most importantly, money. Be specific and unique to yourself. Too much generalization will not be as effective. It is called a “personal” mission statement for a reason.
    2. What are three important goals you hope to achieve this year? Keep your list of important goals small and give them a date. It is better to focus on the horizon and not the stars. Realistic goals are keys to ultimate success.
    3. What image do you hope to project to yourself? How you see yourself is how the world will view you. Think about this carefully. Your image should encompass what you look like and feel after you have achieved your goals.
    4. Write down action statements from each value describing how you will use those values to achieve your three goals. Start with “I will…”
    5. Rewrite your statement to include only your action statements. Make portable copies for your wallet, car or office.

    If you followed the steps above, congratulations! You have just written your first personal mission statement. Your personal statement will change over the years as your goals change. You can have more than one statement for the different compartments of your life such as your career, family, marriage, etc.

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    Writing a personal mission statement is an effective method to ensure your productivity is at its peak. It is an ideal tradition to start so that when next year rolls around, the outdated practice of resolutions will be something you permanently left in the past.

    Featured photo credit: Álvaro Serrano via unsplash.com

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