Lessons from the Sandbox: A book review by Bob Morris

Lessons:SandboxLessons from the Sandbox: Rediscovering the Keys to Business Success
Alan Gregerman
Contemporary Books (2000)

“I have spent my adult life trying to see the world again as I once did as a child.” Pablo Picasso

Alan Gregerman’s core thesis is that there are 13 “gifts from childhood” that can help those who embrace them to “rediscover the keys to business growth.” In this context, I am reminded of several lessons that Robert Fulghum shares in All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. “Hold hands when you cross the street,” for example, and “Clean up your own mess.” I selected the Picasso quotation for the title of this brief commentary because it is directly relevant to Gregerman’s and Fulghum’s perspectives on what many of us have lost since childhood.

Gregerman devotes a separate chapter to each “gift” and the first is play. He quotes comments made years ago by Fred Rogers: “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” It is also an essential element within a healthy workplace environment, as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi explains during his TED program, “Flow, “the secret to happiness.” Gregerman discusses this equation: childhood growth = living + exploring + belonging. With only minor modification, the same equation would be relevant to most of the companies annually ranked among the most admired and best to work for are also annually listed among those most profitable with the greatest cap value in their industry segment. Coincidence? I don’t think so. Healthy, wholesome play is indeed a serious matter for “children of all ages.”

These are among the dozens of Gregerman’s observations of special interest and value to me, also listed to indicate the scope of his coverage and, more to the point, the focus of his counsel.

To compete successfully in the future, companies will need….

o To redefine the nature and content of work and recognize the importance of play (Page 23)
o To create an even greater sense of enthusiasm and energy for their customers, employees, and shareholders. (45)
o To know where they are going and how they intend to get there. They will also need to ask the right questions along the way. (61)

o To keep their eyes on the clock. (75)
Comment: I think the most important process improvements are reductions of first pass yield and of cycle time.

o Leaders who create workplace environments in which real magic can happen. (89)
Comment: What Gregerman means by “magic” is essentially what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi means by “flow”: total, complete, and joyful engagement in what one does while achieving peak performance.

o To look at themselves and their world with much greater curiosity. (123)
o To ask the right questions and answer them in ways [by a process] that will thrill customers, employees, and shareholders. (139)
o To try new things and make faster and more intelligent mistakes. (153)
o To innovate consistently and skillfully in all aspects of their businesses. (167)
o To do a much better job of getting all their people to participate in ways that make a [significant] difference. (191)
o To create and nurture safe places for people and their ideas. (205
o To inspire all of their employees to accomplish [both] great and small things. (219)

During the course of his lively and eloquent narrative, Gregerman provides an abundance of information, insights, and counsel to help business leaders achieve these and other strategic objectives. It remains for each reader to determine which portions of the material and, especially, which of the “gifts” are most relevant to her or his own needs, interests, goals, objectives, resources, etc.

Recent and extensive major studies conducted by highly reputable research firms such as BlessingWhite, Gallup, and TowersWatson reveal that, on average, less than 30% of a workforce in a U.S. company are actively and productively engaged; the others are either passively engaged (i.e. “mailing it in”) or actively undermining the company’s efforts to succeed. For those in need of help to increase the number of those in their organization who are actively and productively engaged, Alan Gregerman’s assistance would be of incalculable value. Also, I highly recommend his most recent book, The Necessity of Strangers: The Intriguing Truth About Insight, Innovation, and Success, as well as Surrounded by Geniuses: Unlocking the Brilliance in Yourself, Your Colleagues and Your Organization. All three books are brilliant and practical as well as entertaining. Great stuff!

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