As I type this, I’m watching squirrels outside my window fussing around with the hundreds of acorns falling from our white oak tree. Wondering what ever happens to all of those acorns, I stumbled across a study that shows 74 percent of the acorns squirrels bury they never recover.
Can you imagine if 3/4 of the work you did never saw the light of day? You know that feeling when you’ve typed a presentation, not clicked save, and then your computer freezes and the document is lost forever? That’s got nothing on the exhausting work of burying acorns all day, only to spend February doing amazing gymnastics to steal food from the bird feeder.
As it turns out, squirrels are doing important work. They just don’t know it.
You see, squirrels are a critical part of the reforestation of oak trees in America. Like Saturday volunteers with their matching t-shirts, they happily plant oak trees that will provide shade, oxygen and, yes, more acorns for future generations of squirrels.
Have you ever felt like that squirrel, wondering what the point is of all of your labor, wondering why you don’t see it?
Perhaps, like the squirrels, you are doing greater work than you’ll ever know–work that will impact future generations rather than just your quarterly results. Or perhaps you’re on the verge of a huge break through that answers a question you didn’t even have yet.
Take Sir Alexander Fleming who was studying the flu virus and didn’t properly clean his lab specimens. The end result was the discovery of penicillin!
Fleming is credited as saying : “One sometimes finds what one is not looking for…I certainly didn’t plan to revolutionize all medicine by discovering the world’s first antibiotic…But I guess that was exactly what I did.”
The engineers at 3M were trying to make a super strong adhesive for airplanes when they accidentally discovered the temporary adhesive that is on today’s Post-It ® note.
Is your team focused on the immediate impact? What if, unlike the squirrels, you could help them see the forest, and not just the oak trees?
Squirrels show us five ways we can help encourage our team in the trenches:
- Acknowledge the importance of planting seeds. Just like penicillin or the Post-It ®, planting seeds of discovery and innovation are important, even if you don’t get to reap the benefits of growth.
- Ensure each acorn of work is worth the work to bury it. Squirrels focus on burying the acorns with more nutrition–the greatest potential. With a yard full of acorns, you want to prioritize those that can have the biggest impact.
- Reward and recognize work behind-the-scenes that could lead to something big, being sure to reward the hard working squirrels. It’s easy for us to forget they are there every day, in all conditions, doing their thing.
- Pay attention to squirrel-like scrambling. Stay off of the, er, hamster wheel. If something won’t help anything grow, it’s not worth planting.
- Share your observations on their personal growth during the “acorn hiding season.” We have times at work where we are in the trenches, and other times are for slowing the pace and learning how to make the next season even better.
This blog was published by: Scott Mautz & Natalie Hastings