Charles Ludwig Dodgson was born in England in 1832. In his twenties Charles wrote poetry and short stories. On May 4, 1842, Alice Pleasance Hargreaves Liddell was born in Oxford. In 1856, the two would meet. On a rowboat, Charles weaved fantastic stories sharing with Alice and her sisters. He went on to become Lewis Carroll and in turn, she became Alice in Wonderland. There is a lot we can learn from Charles Dodgson – a.k.a. Lewis Carroll – about how to support others in building a successful career and inspire innovation in the workplace.
Dodgson’s story of Alice’s adventure has insight for us in our world of ambiguity. Organizations around the world face uncertainty and unprecedented change. It’s important for HR professionals to provide stability amidst the rapid change – to be the stabilizing force as we all follow Alice down the rabbit hole.
Here are three lessons we can learn from dear Alice’s adventures.
- The Red Queen tells us, “When you’ve once said a thing, that fixes it, and you must take the consequences.” Think about a worldwide audience, it’s important to build a diverse team and use inclusive language. Think before you speak!
- Virginia Woolf said, “Only Lewis Carroll has shown us the world upside down as a child sees it and has made us laugh as children laugh.” – We are in times of a global workforce – and people, cultures, and practices are different. Alice teaches us to be curious, tolerant, and respect from those who are different from us.
- Tweedledum said to Tweedledee, “I know what you’re thinking about, but it isn’t so, no-how. Contrariwise, if it isn’t so, it might be; and if it were so, it wouldn’t be, but as it isn’t, it ain’t. That’s logic.” – We are living in a time of amazing technological advances – and no idea is too crazy. It’s critical to build a safe culture where outliers can propose contrarian ideas – and to build inclusive cultures that give everyone a voice.
Innovative 21st-century organizations give people permission to head down that rabbit hole are new and innovative ideas, cultural change, and breakthrough thinking. Charles Dodgson found that in his stories of Alice – and by sharing, inspires us all to think more broadly. How can we challenge our workforce and inspire more innovation and creativity? A couple thoughts to ponder:
- From Alice’s Simple Rules, “A red hot poker will burn you if you hold it too long” – this is a precursor to Clayton Christenson’s Innovator’s Dilemma. Too often, successful organizations stick to the ideas that support the franchise - be open to new ideas and disruptive innovation. Give those with creative ideas a voice to speak up.
- The Red Queen advises us, “it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.” – and to me, this is about people management and organizational health. Good managers spend time on supporting the “lives of the managed” – this means regular one-on-one meetings, investing in career discussions – to maintain a healthy organization requires managers to run hard at the basics – which will lead to growth.
- "Never Imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise." - create a culture that allows people to bring their authentic selves to work… this is a brilliant observation that directly speaks to the importance of building culture of innovation and inclusion.
This is a time of dramatic changes in the world of work. We can great lessons looking back at the work of Charles Dodgson – Lewis Carroll and his work on the stories of Alice. We face interesting characters every day, and our modern-day Red Queen, TweedleDee, or Humpty Dumpty have lessons for us, and we can learn a lot by paying attention to their words… and it matters less whether they are “right” or not, it matters most that we are open to listening.
The future of work demands changes in the way we work together.