She Swallowed a Fly

Dave Kinnear1-On Leadership, 4-ExtPost, Blog

Not Just for Kids:

When our children were young (it seems like yesterday!), we would often sing nursery rhymes while traveling in the car. One of them was, “There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly.” I won’t go through all the verses (if you’re interested, you can watch it on YouTube here:, suffice it to say that this mythical old lady somehow swallowed a fly, “I don’t know why she swallowed a fly—Perhaps she’ll die.”  And then, to solve the fly problem, she, in turn, swallowed a

Nursery Rhymes Are Not Just For Kids

spider, bird, cat, dog, cow, and finally, a horse. She died, of course.

Sense out of Nonsense

As with so many children’s stories, there are morals for adults as well. As I reflect on this particular nursery rhyme, I am reminded of how I sometimes double down on a method rather than find a more effective process. I do that frequently with software, for example. I learn how to perform a particular task in a certain way and never take the time to find out if there is a better way to do that task. I observe that I am not alone in this propensity to stick with a known process even when it proves to be ineffective or perhaps even detrimental.

Diversity of Experience

I am sometimes too close to a problem to see that there might be a better way. Similarly, I sometimes find myself deciding to do something myself rather than letting an employee discover their way of performing the task. After all, it’s faster and safer if I do it. That approach shuts down any potential for either one of us to learn something new.

If I hire people outside of my industry, or perhaps, a young person just out of school, I have a better chance of learning new things. It is pretty frustrating when I read a job posting stating that the hiring manager requires five or ten years of industry experience of the applicants. That approach locks us into groupthink. My goal when it comes to hiring is to have a diversity of backgrounds on my team. The only commonality and consistency I want are our values.

Customers, Science, Competitors

Perhaps my technology background biases me toward always looking for a new way. In my corporate days, customers often drove me to change products or methods. Science also propelled my company to make changes and introduce new products that provided a more elegant solution to customer challenges. And, of course, competitors had the same experience. Once they introduced a new product or established a new business model, my company had to respond. Good competitors made us a better company.

Startup companies disrupt the market and bring new ideas to all of us. Hopefully, we can respond quickly and adjust to the changes. If not, we will go the way of the dinosaurs.

Leading the Way

I believe that a combination of hiring people with diverse experiences, continuous education of ourselves and our employees, and listening to all stakeholders in our businesses is a critical skill set for survival from now on. That has always been the case. However, the changes are coming much faster these days, and we all have to “up our game.”

So, the question is, what are you doing to make sure you retain your top talent, recruit diverse talent, provide continuous learning, and work with all your stakeholders? On the other hand, you could swallow a horse—and you’ll die, of course.