A Lesson from the Farmyard

Rob Parsons, Care for the Family

Most of us have read George Orwell’s Animal Farm but just in case you last studied it in fourth form, let me remind you how it ends. In short, the pigs have taken over the place. Worse still, they are now every bit as repressive and exploitive as the farmer who used to run the place. But here’s the big question that Orwell didn’t answer - what actually happened?

The truth is they blew it. From a pig on the front cover of Time magazine, to a company in liquidation in less time than it takes to cook bacon. It’s true they employed the very best consultants, had the latest technology, and a business plan that would have had Richard Branson drooling to get a slice of the action - but the farm failed. Why? Well, to find out let’s drop in on a meeting of the board. The date is 5 June 1953. There are twelve pigs around the table resting their trotters on the walnut, all smoking Havanas and coughing badly. Frank Trotter the CEO is speaking.

“Now turn to number six on the agenda - advertising. Will somebody tell me why, after a whole year, we still haven’t got the sign that advertises the farm, fixed to the top of the big tree?”

Chris Bacon, head of marketing, shuffles uneasily in his seat. “Sir, that sign has been ready for over a year. I have yelled, threatened, and begged maintenance to get it fixed to the tree, but they keep coming up with excuses.”

Carl Porker, head of operations, already has his answer ready and delivers it with resolve. “It’s not that we haven’t tried. But every time we try to get the turkey to climb the tree with a fixing line, he falls off. Just last week we got him half way up but then he got a claw caught in the bark and practically broke his neck.”

Susan Snouter, head of animal resources and training, chips in, “I have had that turkey on more tree climbing courses and seminars than you’ve had mud baths. But we believe he just lacks motivation. I hate to say it of a colleague, but he just doesn’t seem to have it”.

The pigs only allowed one non-trotter into the meeting - the company secretary - and even he, the owl, only got in because he could take notes. He had never before had the courage to speak out: “Sir, forgive my interrupting, but could I say something just this once?”

Twelve pairs of pig eyes turned on him.

“If you must,” said the CEO.

“Sir, why not send the squirrel up with the line. Everybody knows the turkey’s a turkey at it.”

The CEO didn’t answer at once. He simply stood and toddled towards the owl. He was a little unsteady on two trotters and once or twice had to grasp the table for support, but eventually he made the whole length of the room and was eyeball to eyeball with the company secretary.

“Do you see what I have just done?” he screamed at the unfortunate bird.

“Yes, sir - you walked - upright.”

“No, Owl, I didn’t just walk upright. I achieved. And that’s what this board believes in. We’re a no-limits organisation, Owl. The turkey will climb that tree. Now get out!”

Owl closed the boardroom door quietly behind him and, head hung low, made his way across the farmyard. In the distance he could see the cows shuffling uneasily as if afraid to break the eggs they were hatching, the chickens were guarding the corn-store, and his best friend the squirrel was just going under for the third time in yet another swimming lesson on the pond. And as he passed the great oak, a turkey fell on his head.

The key to the heart of success for individuals, companies and organisations, is to discover what I call Factor X, and then be set free to use it. Factor X is that ability in a man or a woman that is a natural strength -it sets them apart from the pack. The problem is that in life we are dogged by people who want us to be just like them, or, in companies or organisations, by managers who say, “This is the way we’ve always done it.” It may be that our parents have pressurized us to take the career that, given the chance, they themselves would have loved to pursue. The problem is that it is their dream, not ours. I am convinced that most people have never had the opportunity to consider, let alone discover, what their natural strengths are.

 Some time ago I saw a “motivational poster.” It read, “There is no ‘I’ in TEAM.” Well whoever designed it got the spelling right but the philosophy will kill an organisation dead in the water. Great teams are made up of brilliant individuals who are allowed to play to their strengths. Great managers create team spirit whilst allowing individual brilliance to shine.

Rob Parsons, OBE,

Founder, Care for the Family

Adapted from The Heart of Success by Rob Parsons. Published by Hodder and Stoughton.

An evening with Rob Parsons

An Evening with Rob Parsons

From the boy described as ‘making no use of what little ability he has,’ to an international best-selling author, speaker and founder of Care for the Family, Rob Parsons, has a lifetime’s experience of overcoming obstacles.

In his brand-new event, An Evening with Rob Parsons, you’re invited to pull up a chair and settle in for a poignant night of storytelling that will remind you of timeless truths and stay with you long after you head home.

You’ll hear about:

  • Escaping from imposter syndrome
  • Finding hope beyond shattered dreams
  • Avoiding the labels others put on you
  • Enduring the hard times you just can’t fix
  • Why tomorrow doesn’t have to be like yesterday  

Find out more and book your tickets 👉cff.org.uk/robparsons