As ever, being the parent of a 4.5-year-old serves up the ready inspiration for this blog on the (occasionally) grown up world of work. Articles in both mainstream and industry –specific media often use analogies from literature, film and music to illustrate various themes around workplace issues. This blog is no different and I’ve referenced everything from Voltaire to Dad’s Army in my time. However, the fag end of the summer holidays seems like an appropriate time to take a look at the world of kids’ TV to see if there are lessons to be learnt by those adults amongst us who still share a childlike sense of the art of the possible as we approach the challenges before us.
It seems that not all of you might be familiar with the undersea adventurers, the Octonauts, whose motto provides the title of this post, so a brief summary is in order.
The Octonauts are a seven-strong band of aquatic explorers who travel the world’s oceans aboard their vessel, the Octopod, accompanied by their faithful half animal, half vegetable retainers, the Vegimals, helping animals in danger. Led by Captain Barnacles (a polar bear) the Octonauts are: Kwazii Kitten; Dashi Dog; Peso Penguin; Shellington Sea Otter; Tweak Bunny and Professor Inkling Octopus. I am reliably informed that the Octonauts do carry ranks but, as they operate in a relatively democratic, flat structure I have not noted these here.
So, that is the context. What might we now learn from this motley crew? And which Octonaut fits most closely your own persona at work?
Fearless and strong, Barnacles is a firm believer in leading by example. He is close to his crew and, by understanding what skills they possess and what motivates them he is able to get them performing at their highest capacity.
The modern leader needs these attributes in spades. Great managers need courage – to take difficult decisions and see them through; to risk unpopularity; to stick their necks out; to challenge the status quo. Money is often not the primary motivator. Understanding your co-workers is key to helping them unlock potential.
Headstrong and impulsive, Kwazii is something of a wildcard but has a heart of gold and a family legacy of a piratical bent.
Kwazii is an embodiment of Facebook’s philosophy of “Move fast and break things” in cat form. Invariably the first into action, his act first, think later attitude gets him into many a tight corner but it is this impulsiveness which often serves to unlock unexpected solutions to seemingly intractable issues. Smart risk taking is actively encouraged in innovative businesses and thinking differently about our challenges is a great tactic. After all, as Einstein pointed out, we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them. JFDI isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach but in certain contexts it definitely has its merits.
Peso is the medic on the crew. Uncertain and introverted he is not a natural leader but he is a passionate defender of those in need of help.
Perhaps now more than ever before, the meek look like inheriting the earth. At least in terms of business when the worst excesses of the self-styled masters of the financial universe have been brought low by hubris and naked greed. Workplace designers now need to cater for the introvert as we lately come to recognise that creativity does not necessarily happen in the open, supposedly collaborative spaces that we’ve been specifying for decades.
Shellington Sea Otter
A scientist with an encyclopaedic knowledge of sea creatures, reflective and analytical, the others defer to him for strategic and tactical information when planning or executing missions.
We are into the era of Big Data. Fad or otherwise, there is no doubt that it is impacting on business and strategic direction. Big or otherwise, data and other business-critical intelligence can be the difference between success and failure. For the foreseeable future, machines will continue to be simply a repository. It is human intellect that has the power to analyse and interpret the information. Those with a head for data and the nous to use it intelligently will hold much of the balance of power in the modern workplace.
Engineer and inventor, creator of the fabulous gadgetry and machinery that empowers the crew and enables them to operate in extreme environments.
Creativity and innovation – the holy grail of modern business. If you have a natural talent for either and can translate this in a work environment, you’ll have colleagues beating a path to your door. Understanding how business works and the ecosystem in which they operate is vital when it comes to engineering positive outcomes. Whether innovating as a game changer or as an adaptor, developing your skills will give you a competitive advantage.
Photographer and computer expert, chronicles the adventures of the crew and ensures they stay connected to each other and the information they rely on.
Memory and visualisation are inextricably linked. This TED talk is a great resource that explains the importance of drawing together for creativity and innovation. Being able to visualise your transformative narratives can be a wonderful way of working through the challenges of change in business. Some argue that they cannot draw. This is simply not true. What you draw might not meet someone else’s tidy pre-conceived notion of what a good drawing might look like, but it still has the capacity to bring you back to a moment or recall an amazing idea.
That strong IT skills are a pre-requisite in business is now accepted wisdom. However, using tools intelligently and with true wisdom and insight is more important still. And remember, there’s a human being at the end of that cable.
Professor Inkling Octopus
Founder of the Octonauts, his experience and wisdom keep the crew focussed on their mission and he provides a figurehead they respect and look to for inspiration.
Great leaders need not always be in the trenches alongside the troops but they set clear strategic direction and act in the best interests of all who work for and with them. They wear their power lightly and with humility and recognise the need to be continuously learning and improving. Employees look to them as a barometer of the culture of the organisation so, whilst they acknowledge that mistakes may be made, their fundamental behaviour should be beyond reproach.
Tunip and The Vegimals
Half animal, half vegetable? Not sure exactly how this translates but you may have had a manager who fits the profile. There will be ambiguity in business. It’s part of the natural course of things. But you should never allow ambiguity in your communications with those you work with.
And finally, let’s examine their motto: EXPLORE-RESCUE-PROTECT
Explore new horizons and bring your teams with you. Keep looking for new things to bring to the business. Be restless. Be a seeker after the truth.
Rescue people from drudgery. Put fire in their bellies. Save us from jargon.
Protect us from complacency and inconsiderate and damaging words, thoughts and deeds. Look after your people and they’ll take care of your business.
All images, OCTONAUTS™ OCTOPOD™ Copyright © 2010 Chorion Rights Limited. All rights reserved.
Based on the books by Meomi: Vicki Wong & Michael Murphy