Recently, I was stirred to consider my seven favorite books. I scanned my bookshelves and I came up with my super-seven — each of which have meant so much at certain points in time.
The earliest one that popped out of my memory bank and made me rustle through stacks was “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” by Roald Dahl. I was only 6 years old when I first entered this wonderland and yet I still believe it’s a profoundly fascinating book. All these years later, I believe it teaches us much about the human condition and, especially, today’s workplace.
I can’t imagine any of my readers don’t know the story but maybe we do need to dust off the cobwebs of our minds: It tells the story of a poor child named Charlie Bucket who, after finding a Golden Ticket in a chocolate bar, visits Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory along with four other children from around the world.
The first four tickets are found by a gluttonous German boy Augustus Gloop; the spoiled English girl Veruca Salt; a constantly gum-chewing girl Violet Beauregarde; and the television-obsessed boy Mike Teevee.
Charlie is on his way home from school when he finds money in a gutter and uses it to buy and eat candy; with the change, he buys a regular Wonka Bar for Grandpa Joe. Charlie opens his Wonka Bar, discovering the final ticket.
During the tour, each child’s character flaws cause them to give in to temptation. Even Charlie falls from grace but is redeemed when he admits his error to Wonka, who rewards him by bequeathing the factory to him.
Five decades later, here’s how I see these five children all grown up in today’s workplaces around the world:
- Augustus is still greedy — only interested in what he can get from his employer rather than what he can give. He moves slowly. Starts on time. Finishes on time. He never goes beyond his job description. Always consuming resources and yet never hungry to do more, to grow more or be more.
- Veruca has three very close friends in her own mind — “Me, Myself and I.” She’s still demanding. She still has tantrums. She still stomps her feet when she doesn’t get what she demands. Veruca is a manager now and she revels in her own power — the trouble is, no one wants to follow her.
- Violet has stopped eating gum but has kept her sassiness. She’s a gossip. She causes friction in the workplace and prides herself on her straight but hurtful talk. Violet has favorites and exhibits such microinequities in the way she supervises.
- Mike has moved beyond TV and IT is now his new god. He worships technology. He prefers processors over people. His people skills are an oxymoron. Mike is excited about the advent of artificial intelligence and sees the people side of project management as an unnecessary distraction and annoyance to him. He can intensely focus at a screen for hours but blames his ADHD for his lack of focus in management meetings.
- Charlie still runs the factory. He likes his work but most importantly, loves his employees. Yes, he’s expanded the business beyond Wonka’s wildest dreams but he doesn’t lord it over others. The Oompa Loompas are rewarded well and have an intrapreneurial spirit — working as if they own the factory. Charlie recently won an award for Servant Leadership and in his acceptance speech he credited his family and especially Grandpa Joe for raising him up in the way he should go. Charlie hung his award on the wall just below his favorite photo of Mr. Wonka — the one that reminds Charlie of the day he was lifted high because of his humility to confess and apologize.
One of the wonderful aspects of our humanity is that our future doesn’t have to be our past, as we have freedom to choose in the present. At times, we all exhibit the imperfections of Augustus, Veruca, Violet or Mike — me included. I’m sure Charlie still has his shortcomings but let’s all work like Wonka would want.
Paul Butler is a Santa Clarita resident and a client partner with Newleaf Training and Development of Valencia (newleaftd.com). For questions or comments, email Butler at [email protected].