Bishop: “I’m afraid you’ve got a bad egg, Mr Jones”;
Curate: “Oh, no, my Lord, I assure you that parts of it are excellent!”
“True Humility” by George du Maurier, originally published in Punch, 9 November 1895.
A repeated phrase this week, in team and individual sessions, has been ‘I don’t mean to be negative’, a red alert to a current mood of social pressure to be positive and upbeat. The famous Punch cartoon above is often brought in somewhere in the conversation, suggesting an ability to see the positive in any situation.
It’s worth looking again.
There are no parts of a bad egg that are excellent, or good.
The cartoon is about servility, compliance, and syrup-ing the truth until it morphs into another dish altogether: an untruth.
Pointing out what is not working is not being ‘negative’.
The classic start point for great inventions is exactly this ‘what’s not working’ question, and even not so great inventions start with a ‘pain point’ and look for the remedy. And the great way to bring the cartoon up to date in organisational culture terms might be to inject the ultimate in effective truth telling…inviting accountability.
If only Mr Jones had felt able to say:
‘Yes, you have served me a bad egg, my Lord. Let’s talk about what we can do about it.’