I sit here enjoying the calm between Christmas Day and New Years Day, bloated from over indulging, but happy to have kept the traditions alive. One of our family ones is Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’; the Christmas build-up is not complete without reading, listening or watching this particular tale.
Not only is it credited with financially saving Dickens himself through sales, tours and follow-up Christmas stories, its enormous success helped spread a consistent view of, for its time, a modern Victorian Christmas. This is the Christmas that is the basis for much of a current British celebration - Christmas trees, turkey for dinner and parlour games. For those who don’t know the story, it is focussed on a miserly money lender called Scrooge whose dead business partner appears to him on Christmas Eve to warn of the dangers to his eternal soul of continuing his mean and selfish business and personal ways. To show Scrooge the errors of these ways, he is visited by three spirits representing Christmases past, present and future.
Christmas past reminds Scrooge how he become who he is through showing him his school life, how he used to like fun and Christmas, and how his love of money lost him the woman he loved.
Christmas present shows him how his actions make others suffer and how others make fun of him. It also hints at the level of poverty that existed at the time, while Scrooge hoarded his money. Indeed there was a movement at the time Dickens wrote the book to protect children from child labour and poverty.
Christmas future shows him what the results will be if he does not change his ways, from the death of his clerk’s disabled son, to him being buried unloved, alone, and with people stealing his possessions.
Of course Scrooge sees the errors of his actions and vows to be more generous, treat his employees more fairly and enjoy life more.
So, what has all this to do with business and ways-of-working?
The personal journey that Scrooge undertakes is the same one that many businesses need to undertake to survive in a rapidly changing world.
Mindset The obvious one is that people, and businesses, do not work in isolation. If they focus on money, they lose something of themselves and lessen society. We are social creatures, and we need a healthy society to be healthy and whole ourselves. Businesses need to make money to survive, but we shouldn’t make that the only goal. Currently, the idea that businesses need to be more than profit centres for shareholders is still a minority view, but this change has to happen to enable adaptive organisations. However, early movers will be seen as strange and, like Scrooge, must be satisfied with intrinsic validation before there is wider acceptance.
“Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did NOT die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man as the good old City knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough in the good old world. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed, and that was quite enough for him.”
Multi-model The second aspect is that to be adaptable enough to thrive, businesses need to work simultaneously across the three timeframes within the Christmas Carol story - past, present and future:
Business past is the support of legacy systems and existing customers, as well as understanding the history and purpose of the organisation - why the organisation exists.
Business present is the winning of new business, and cost optimisation of existing production and business processes.
Business future is investing in understanding and designing the future so the organisation can position itself in the best possible position to continue being successful. Organisations need to be able to sense changes to their environment, know their potential customers, understand the changes they have to make and innovate new products and services.
Most current organisations focus almost exclusively on ‘business present’, taking costs out of the running of the business. Ones that do this will find themselves, although successful in the short-term, overtaken by events and becoming Scrooge businesses plagued by low morale, unsatisfied customers and increasingly isolated.
“I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future!’ Scrooge repeated as he scrambled out of bed. ’The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me.” - from ‘A Christmas Carol’