"So this is a rejection of mediocrity, and an invitation to excellence. Don’t be afraid to be powerful beyond all measure. … Don’t forget your cape. Be a superhero. And deliver on the promise of who you could become"
Although Hugh D. MacPhie’s Don’t Forget Your Cape! is a mere 148 pages, it is a strong call to action for individuals to look at their lives, both professional and personal, evaluate their potential and passion in simple, practical terms and not settle for anything less than excellence. Simply put, MacPhie takes important business topics and puts them in the context of the lives of preschool children – his preschool children. The stories and examples are easy to read and provide sufficient context to give the reader a visceral feel for the management topics they represent. The book is divided into nine chapters. One chapter for each of the nine pieces of wisdom a preschooler would share with the reader… keeping in mind that preschoolers have a strong, enviable belief in their limitless potential.
Dust off your cape
"Too many people have lost their capes. Over time, they’ve lost their inner belief and conviction that they too, can be superheroes."
Superheroes, much like preschoolers, believe in themselves and their abilities, doing the right thing, standing up for others and demonstrate an unbelievably high (sometimes frustratingly high if you are the parent) level of confidence. As adults, we enter the world of business and lose some of this confidence (even though our skills, knowledge and abilities far exceeds what they were as a preschooler) and feel trapped by organizational barriers that sometimes make it difficult to do the right thing and accomplish great things. Regaining some belief in ourselves and our abilities is critical to achieving greatness and making a difference in our own lives and the lives of those we impact. Although it is a simple concept to get your head around, the emotional implications are huge. I recently read the summary of The Confidence Code and was struck by how aligned the concept of donning a cape and having a growth mindset is. This innocent mindset without the baggage of how society expects you to behave allows us to view situations as adventures and opportunities for learning rather than opportunities for failures.
There is extraordinary value in asking “why”
"Ask Stupid Questions. They Rock"
I absolutely love this directive. How many times have you sat in a meeting wanting to challenge a key assumption, but did not because you might feel embarrassed? The assumption appeared so entrenched in the business; it would be stupid to question it. It is by asking these types of questions that we will begin to look at situations differently and drive innovation by challenging the way things are done. As MacPhie suggests, three year olds do not ask “why” just once. They ask it multiple times and keep asking it to try and understand why things are the way they are. In more adult terms, these deep probing questions and searches for the root causes of a problem can be enlightening and lead to new product development and breakthrough ideas. According to a recent Conference Board of Canada study, Canada ranks a dismal 13 out of 16 peer countries on innovation. When faced with these statistics, asking a stupid question does not seem quite as silly.
Take a Breath
"The big difference between the psychology of a two-year old and the psychology of a member of your team is that the two-year old is simply less subtle at hiding his or her true feelings."
It’s true. Think of the last time you were in a meeting and someone made a negative comment about a member of your team. It felt awful. You may even have become defensive. It made me laugh out loud to picture a VP handling the attack on his or her team like a toddler and leaning over to the offender and biting him or her on the arm as MacPhie hypothesized. MacPhie encourages us to acknowledge our irritation, but talk about the situation directly and respectively and take a pass on any passive-aggressive approaches. Remind ourselves that we are all part of the team for a reason and success relies on us working well together.
Overall, this book intertwines the way we live our lives and the work we do. It is about having a choice and choosing to make the most out of every day. MacPhie leaves the reader with a compelling analogy towards the end of his book: The Grasshopper and the Ant. Old school philosophy would have us believe that “grasshoppers” just want to have a good time and live in the moment, and “ants” work very hard preparing only for the future. Like MacPhie, I do not think this is an either or scenario. Superheroes and preschoolers have both. So should the rest of us.
Yet, there is sometimes a lack of alignment between our brain and our actions. MacPhie does not introduce any new or novel ideas or define approaches that have not been mentioned in one management theory or another. All the information he presents makes great sense in business and life. Unfortunately, soon after we close the cover of the book, the emotional engagement and call to action dissipates for many of us. My challenge is: if you know you can be successful and you know you can deal with challenges in a direct, yet respectful and collaborative way, and you can ask curious questions to allow you to look at situations innovatively, why don’t you strive for different outcomes all the time, and why do you let somebody else define you potential? It is highly unlikely my 5 year old would. Perhaps he can remind me to do the same.