This story will change the way you think about criticism

I want to share with you a story I recently stumbled upon that will change the way you think about criticism and hopefully leave you worrying less.

Here is an abridged version of Aesop’s fable The Story of the Old Man, a Boy and a Donkey put together by author Michael Port.

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An old man, a boy and a donkey were going to town. The boy rode on the donkey and the old man walked. As they went along they passed some people who remarked it was a shame the old man was walking and the boy was riding. The man and boy thought maybe the critics were right, so they changed positions.

Later, they passed some people that remarked: “What a shame, he makes that little boy walk.” They then decided they both would walk!

Soon they passed some more people who thought they were stupid to walk when they had a decent donkey to ride. So, they both rode the donkey.

Now they passed some people that shamed them by saying how awful to put such a load on a poor donkey. The boy and man said they were probably right, so they decided to carry the donkey. As they crossed the bridge, they lost their grip on the animal and he fell into the river and drowned.

The moral of the story: “Try to please everyone and you can kiss your ass goodbye.”

A 19th century depiction of Aesop’s classic fable.

Actually I think Aesop put it: “Try to please everyone and you will please no-one”.

In business there are a number of things we can learn from this story. What meaning does it hold for you? Here’s my take on it:

We can’t always serve everyone, let alone please everyone. We should tackle our work with conviction and embrace criticism. The old man and the boy took the reactive approach to criticism without thinking it through.

I see criticism and mistakes as learning opportunities and a chance to grow from the experience. At times though, if you’re confident in the decisions you’ve made, you will need to follow through on your course of action with confidence. After all, the critics in this story didn’t even ask the old man and the boy what they were doing or why. The critics didn’t evaluate the situation.

The old man and the boy made at least three mistakes:

  1. They set off on their journey without a plan
  2. They did not evaluate the feedback (criticism) they received
  3. They did not consult with the donkey

Hang on… Consult with the donkey? Sounds strange I know, but go with me here. All these decisions were made with the donkey’s best interests at heart. But did anybody ask the donkey what he wanted? There’s an important message here for business owners and managers. Consult with your workforce. Invite their input. Often the best suggestions will come from your people.

Until next next time.

Kind regards,

Mark Stipic

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