On Christmas Eve we found ourselves sitting in the sun at a beach-front cafe just outside Malaga, Spain. For the Spanish, Christmas Eve is a big family day, and there was a young family at the next table. The two kids were busy building sand-castles on the low wall that separated the beach from the promenade.
Both were wearing football tops, yellow with blue sleeves, and with their cool sunglasses, and their selection of construction toys, they looked every inch the part of a couple of little civil engineers creating some significant project.
The younger of the two, a girl, had built two excellent castles with her bucket, each time carefully filling her bucket with sand of just the right consistency before smoothly tipping it over, tapping meticulously around the top, and then gently removing the mould to leave a perfectly-formed tower of sand. Taking dry sand and sprinkling it slowly onto the top, she created a domed roof for each tower, before gathering the loose sand that had fallen all around into a ramp between them, thus creating a perfect gatehouse. All in all, a rather clever little architect. And having produced her creation, she seemed to be at a bit of a loose end, messing about making sand roadways and then demolishing them.
Meanwhile her brother had created five towers in the same time. Granted, they were not quite as attractively built; the odd bit on the sides that could have been smoother, some parts missing at the top were the bucket had not quite been properly filled with sand, so it had settled as the bucket was inverted. He quickly fixed the problem by gathering some large stones from the beach and plonking them on top, correcting (or at least disguising) the defects.
He had collected a number of stones, more than he needed. After a quick count, he proudly announced to his father that he was going to make 1,2,3,4,5… 6,7,8,9,10 … 11 castles! Not speaking Spanish, I’m not sure what Papa’s response was, but our little developer sped up his efforts, turning out tower after tower.
The parents’ next comment must have been something like hurry up, we need to go soon, because our little developer started negotiating with his sister about her perfectly-formed period style gatehouse. I don’t know what promises she extracted, but she was soon scuttling off to refill her bucket, while her brother quickly cleared away the elegant ramp, brushed off the dry-sand domes, and positioned functional capstones to match his towers.
Having acquired not just her property, but also her labour and skills, between them they quickly achieved his target. She even carefully patched up a couple of his towers that were looking distinctly low-rent. So as they gathered up their toys, eleven decent- looking towers stood there on the wall.
And what lessons can we learn from all this? Well, we could go down the route of ‘rapacious developer destroys period building for profit’. Or we could draw from it that you can’t get too fancy if you want to get things done – his five buildings to her one. And the lesson I prefer is that a balance works best, and working in a team gets the right result – his industry combined with her attention to detail.
Which brings me to the real point: what limitations are you allowing to create less than optimal results in your work, and where can you find the resources to overcome them so you get to focus on what you do best, and still get a great job done?
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