This week, the latest in an occasional series inspired by Hilaire Belloc’s Cautionary Tales for Children (if this means nothing to you, visit



Cautionary Tales for Managers (with apologies to Hilaire Belloc)


No. 3: Julie, who thought outside the box - and wasn’t allowed back in


Julie Dankworth, truth to tell

Had had an instinct to rebel

Since she was small; and now, full grown

She felt herself to be alone

In every company that hired her.

Non-conformity inspired her:

She rarely ever suffered fools;

She felt constrained by office rules;

She always asked: “What if?” and “Why?”.

So when a job ad caught her eye

Which said: “We need someone to coach

Our people in a fresh approach

Please send your double spaced c.v.

To Brown and Creasey plc”

She was intrigued; at last, she thought,

A chance to win the role she sought.


Now Brown & Creasey were not known

For fresh approaches; they had grown

Their business through good common sense,

And no unjustified expense.

They kept a tight grip on their purse;

They all were hugely risk averse.

But, in this turbulent business age

We read about (on every page

Of business books and brochures sent

To advertise some new event),

Their profits were now on the slide

And they had lost their corporate pride;

They feared a future hostile bid.

Accordingly, the main board did

What all boards do when times are thin:

They got some new consultants in,

Who focus-grouped and interviewed,

And said: “We finally conclude

Your problem’s really not that great:

You simply need to innovate.

It should take six months at the most.

Our bill will follow in the post.”


Begin a brainstorming crusade?

The board were, to a man, dismayed.

(To them, the phrase ‘outside the box’

Meant wearing brightly coloured socks.)

How might they, by some new decree,

Engender creativity?

They did what top teams do so well:

They passed the buck to Personnel.

And thus the job ad did the rounds

Which Julie saw.  She said: “It sounds

Like it could be my kind of thing.

I’ll give the HR guys a ring.”


So Jules was hired, with a brief

To do things differently. The Chief

Popped in to see her, and to say

To please “crack on” without delay.

(How pleased he felt: he’d done his bit

And now could wash his hands of it.)


It happened that the Board, that week,

As part of their new quest to seek

A sound solution to their plight,

Had booked themselves on a five-night

‘Strategic goal top team retreat’

Held on a yacht moored just off Crete.

(Don’t ask me what they do on these;

I’m sure it justifies the fees.)

One week later, through the door

Returned the top team; what they saw

Induced raw terror in them all:

The lobby was filled wall to wall

With bean bags of a varied hue;

And on them, in the Board’s plain view

Reclined their staff, who laughed and joked.

This unexpected scene provoked

A swift reaction from the chief:

Turning puce with disbelief,

He shouted in the nearest ear:

“Just what on earth is happening here?”

Its owner, trying to explain,

Said: “Julie started a campaign

To get one thousand new ideas.

She ordered the stuff you see here

To help us think in different ways.”

The CEO, his eyes ablaze,

Fumed: “You’re not paid to think! Now go,

And stop this communist go-slow!”


They summoned Julie straight away

And asked her what she had to say.

She said: “I thought you wanted me

To bring forth creativity.”

The FD smiled a caring smile

And told her: “Listen Julie, while

We don’t say it’s a bad idea,

It’s not the way we do things here.

The bean bags for example; they

Are something for which we must pay,

And that’s why a procurement form

Must be signed off – that is the norm

Before a purchase can be made;

I’m sorry, but to make the grade

In business you must understand

How costs are always kept in hand.

And so, we really think it best….”


Let’s leave them: you can guess the rest.

They sent her packing, and instead

They hauled themselves out of the red

By “driving costs aggressively

Out of the business” - easily

Achieved: just ban staff, wall to wall,

From buying anything at all.


So what’s the moral?  Well, if you

Consider yourself someone who

Is prone to do things differently,

Then don’t: it doesn’t work, you see.


(And if you are a company

Who wishes creativity

Would shine its blessed light on you:

Be careful, lest your wish comes true!)


 (c) Phil Lowe, 2004