This post is the first in a series that dissects classic nursery rhymes in search of helpful leadership lessons for the proactive, politically savvy manager. Enjoy.
Three blind mice. Three blind mice.
See how they run. See how they run.
They all ran after the farmer’s wife,
Who cut off their tails with a carving knife,
Did you ever see such a sight in your life,
As three blind mice?
Organizations are laboratories of two conflicting, oscillating elements: competition and uncertainty. This is not to say that a leader perpetually operates in a competitive paradigm or that every detail ranging from an annual budget to a lunch special is uncertain, but nevertheless competition and uncertainty are omnipresent in organizations. When we then add the economic reality of scarcity into the equation, leaders are effectively transformed into blind mice.
Like the eponymous mice in this nursery rhyme, leaders rapidly mobilize agendas while understanding that their agenda is likely at odds with someone else’s campaign.
If a startup is attempting to corner the online cheese industry, it understands that other startups are pursuing the same consumer wheel and slices are limited. There are a finite number of farmers’ wives, seeking only so many discounts on aged Gouda spreads, and only the first mouse will reap the rewards. Leaders at each startup then run alongside each other as they attempt to innovate and outperform their competitors on the road to execution.
Compounding their challenge is the reality that each manager is blind as she mobilizes her agenda. In an uncertain world, no one knows exactly where the expressway ends. Even if one knows her destination and scurries ahead of her competitors, there is no guarantee that a plate of cheese awaits the victor.
One startup could successfully monetize their cheese service only to discover that the dairy craze has ended and the market has shifted to a new sector. Or the farmer’s wife consumers may have changed their preferences and no longer want your gorgonzola. Here, executing the agenda can unfortunately mean executing yourself as you discover all your time and invested resources only lead you to the chopping block.
So the next time someone asks if you’ve ever seen such a sight in your life as three blind mice, open your eyes and find a mirror. You work in a challenging environment and it helps to pause occasionally and confirm that you’re not trapped in a fruitless (or cheeseless) rat race.
Pic credit: snacktime2007