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A pile of manure? It’s all in how you look at things

image001By Richard Gerofsky

Some time ago, behavioural scientists were locked in a debate about the nature of certain aspects of human personality. They could not agree on whether people are naturally pessimistic or optimistic, or whether it is developed through experience. Being scientists, of course, what they could agree on was to conduct an experiment.

They scoured the country in search of ideal subjects. Finally, they found two young kids, one of whom (kid “P”) was a complete pessimist – the other (kid “O”), a full-on optimist.

The youngsters were given lunch, and then each was led away to a separate room in the building and left on their own for the afternoon. The pessimist’s room was stocked full of the most amazing toys, games and treats that any child could wish for. This room contrasted dramatically with that of the optimist, whose room contained nothing – other than a large, and rather odorous, pile of manure.

Later that afternoon, the scientists returned. As they approached the room containing the pessimist, they heard wailing cries that increased in volume as they approached. Upon opening the door, they observed the child sitting in the middle of the room, surrounded by untouched treasures, arms folded on either side of his head, sobbing deeply.
“Why are you crying?” asked one of the scientists, notepad in hand.

“I’m so sad because I know that tomorrow I won’t have all of these wonderful things. I can’t stop myself from crying!” The scientists all nodded, made sounds like “hmmmm” and “ah”, wrote in their notepads, and withdrew from the room.
They headed next to the room containing the optimist and the manure. As they neared the chamber, they began to hear sounds – not crying, but laughter and gleeful shouts. Eyebrows raised in anticipation, they opened the door and entered. What they saw was most puzzling…

What had begun as a large pile in the centre of the room was now spread throughout the area, flung here and there as the youngster dug down into the manure over and over again, wearing a smile from ear to ear. The scientists all stood just inside the doorway (not wanting to get too close…), mouths agape. Finally, one cleared his throat and, almost breathlessly, asked “Why are you so happy?”

“Gee”, replied kid O, “with all this manure, there has to be a pony in here somewhere!”

This parable of sorts is a twist on a joke that former US President Ronald Reagan told many times (some say thousands of times) during his political, showbiz and personal life.

So, what do we learn from it?

As leaders and decision makers, we need to ask ourselves: with what attitude do I approach the situations I face in business every day? Do I tend to view changes as opportunities (that which propels us forward) or threats (barriers, blockages and hurdles)?

I know that in my own business, I tend to be the “kid P” (I like to think of myself as a realist), while one of my partners, on the other hand, goes elbows deep into…. Well, you get the idea.

The fact is, I believe, that it is the right combination of the two that ultimately wins out. What is it like for you?

Richard Gerofsky is a partner at FOCUS Management, Strategy Execution Specialists, Toronto. www.focusmanagement.ca. He can be reached at   or [email protected]

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