The duvet cover on my bed has poppers that hold it closed. There are about ten of them. If one opens, they will eventually all open. Last night, as I got out of bed to close four of those fasteners, it occurred to me that they are a bit of a metaphor for life. If you ignore the small things you know you should take care of they can expand to become more problematic. In this case, ignoring one open popper will result in feet being tangled and general discomfort. From a “duvet cover of life” perspective, it can result in more than a potential trip hazard getting out of bed. Ignoring small, but necessary things can result in less desirable outcomes.
William McRaven also thought about bed, but at the start of the day. In his book, “Make Your Bed” which I read a few years ago, he talks about the importance of starting your day by focusing on the small stuff – literally making your bed first. You start your day with a minor accomplishment, and at least you’ve accomplished that much. If your day turns out to be a bust you’ll still come back to a well-made bed. It’s the reason I spend the time cleaning the house before we go on holidays, despite the time pressure – there is something relaxing about coming back to a house that is in order, after the chaos of travelling with our family.
We have a family tradition at this time of the year. We go to a country house that is open to the public, where they have a “Green Santa”. Unlike his traditional counterpart he doesn’t give presents – he gives each child who visits his Narnia-themed grotto a pine sapling and a shaker of wildflower seeds. As the children are leaving, he suggests that they sprinkle the seeds where they go. It’s the reason I used to unexpectedly have cornflowers and poppies show up from time to time in the back garden.
To stretch the bed metaphor in a different direction, let’s think of ideas as being seeds. As managers, leaders and mentors, we plant ideas – we sow seeds – in the minds of the people we interact with. When I’m speaking with school children about technology and the need for more women in STEM careers, I know I’m not getting through to all or even most of them. I’m not expecting immediate interest in signing up for degrees in STEM. Some seeds will fall in fallow soil, some will land in fertile seedbeds and germinate, growing into plants that dwarf my thinking on the subject. I’ll never know. The seeds I plant may never grow. I’ll never know that either. Our job as managers is to encourage the right growing conditions to allow for seeds to germinate. We do this by establishing cultures of openness and safety; encouraging growth by allowing for failure; by exemplifying the behaviours we want to see in our organisations.
To put this post to bed (yep, I went there), small things matter. Apart from the cumulative effect of ignoring the things we should do, we build unproductive habits by doing so. Read Admiral McRaven’s book – it’s an accessible, short one. And I love the idea of seeds in the mind – a bed of a different kind, where all of us grow.