Chicken Soup for the Soul at Work
Jack Cranfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Maida Rogerson, Martin Rutte & Tim Clauss

Chicken Soup at Work
This is one of a growing series of books. It began with Chicken Soup for the Soul which has now appeared in several servings and has led to a range of books which provide Chicken Soup for specific target audiences such as mothers, teenagers, even golfers and in this case for those at work. The Chicken Soup referred to is not literal but the nourishment of your soul and spirit. Each book contains 101 true stories of human experience which in this volume serve to inspire by sharing experience of compassion courage and creativity in the workplace. This sort of book isn’t to everyone’s liking but even with the American bias I find these collections extremely powerful. I always find examples in the stories that stick with me as role models and as examples of what people can achieve that I can then share with others. I’ve read several of the series and was attracted to this one for its focus on the workplace.

The stories, rarely more than a couple of pages long, are grouped within nine sections, each a business theme such as ‘The power of Acknowledgement’ and ‘Overcoming Obstacles’. The book contains no editorial attempt at instructing the reader on what is right or what to do and simply leaves the stories do that. Each story is preceded by a relevant quote typically from a business leader.

For example a story about training Shamu a 19,000lb whale to jump 22 feet out of the water and perform tricks at Sea World is preceded by Tom Peters quote ‘Celebrate what you want to see more of’. The story outlines how the training of Shamu is based on reinforcing the behaviours they want to see. They start by ensuring the whale can’t fail. The rope it has to jump is actually submerged at first and the whale is congratulated fed and patted each time it swims over it. If it swims under the rope it isn’t punished, no constructive criticism, no development feedback and no warnings in the personnel file; its taught that its negative behaviour will simply not be acknowledged. Using this approach of positive reinforcement the whale achieves its remarkable performance. The story makes the point that most of us get most things right most of the time, yet we often find we focus our attention on those things we don’t want repeated and didn’t want in the first place, rather than what we do well.

Stories such as this provide real practical examples written by ordinary people of what we might do differently. In the space of 300 or so pages we have 101 opportunities for most readers to be inspired to change something for the better. This is no mean achievement for any management book and a delight in a book that is so easy to read.

Another story which stuck in my mind was that of an act of generosity and encouragement without which Scott Adams would never have achieved his aim to be a cartoonist. As a fan of Dilbert I wonder at how easily we could have been denied his creation and am led to think about how better I can encourage others.

One thing you find when reading these books is the desire to want to share some of the stories.

In summary a collection of real life experience stories all relating to work. If you are the sort of person who is inspired by stories of what can be achieved, some of which will tug on your heart then you’ll enjoy this book and probably others in the series. If you want an academic treatise on management approaches this probably isn’t for you.
December 9 2003