REQUIRED READING: There are certain works that have survived centuries of human history. Nuggets of gold have been sifted from the bedrock of past societies: ‘The Iliad,’ ‘The Art of War,’ ‘The Prince,’ ‘Don Quixote,’ ‘War and Peace,’ ‘The Grapes of Wrath.’ But for today's business professional, the key to success may actually be found in another literary classic: the sing-along nursery rhyme ‘Row, Row, Row Your Boat.’
Lest we forget, here is the rhyme in its entirety – feel free to sing aloud while reading it:
Row, row, row your boat,
Gently down the stream.
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,
Life is but a dream.
So, what does it have to do with today's business world? Well, if you are involved in sales, it is a road map to success.
Rowing is motion, movement, living without stagnating. The rhyme tells us to ‘Row your boat’ not once, but three times. This means that you not only to start rowing your boat, but you have to keep rowing it. ‘Row, row, row your boat’ – don't stop rowing. Yes, you need to make calls, schedule meetings, present your product and follow up, and that means you have to keep moving…or, in this case, keep rowing.
The nursery rhyme even explains how to row the boat: ‘Gently down the stream.’ Not too fast, not too slow, but at a gentle rate of speed. This is reinforced by the nursery rhyme's musical tempo: not fast like a rap, and not slow like a ballad.
After all, those of us in the boat do not want to burn out in the first few years. On the other hand, we don't want to row too slowly and expect the river's current to carry us the rest of the way. We need to set the pace, and we will achieve our goals in a timely and efficient manner, as long as we keep rowing.
Next, the rhyme tells us to be merry. It means that there will be happy times if we keep moving along at a gentle pace.
In fact, it uses the word ‘merrily’ more often than rowing. This is important, because most people would rather have a larger proportion of merriness than rowing. The balance, according to the nursery rhyme, is rowing three times and merriment four times – and that seems like a good philosophy. After all, some people row too much, and some people don't row enough.
In this line, the rhyme teaches us a good work ethic. There will be plenty of merry times in our lives – for sales professionals, this include anything from closing a major transaction to securing a handsome bonus for a job well done. But to get to the merriment, work is needed.
The rhyme ends with ‘Life is but a dream.’ This may sound enigmatic, but it actually makes sense – our dreams are intertwined with our lives, but it is also important to not take life or the job too seriously.
When something unfortunate happens, it is important to take a step back and ask if the problem is really going to matter in a year or two. If it will, then it needs to be addressed – or in the context of the song, perhaps the boat needs to be patched. If the problem is not solved, then the boat will slowly sink, no matter how strenuously it is being rowed.
Of course, all business professionals operate at different speeds and strengths. Some people are rowing all the time, others don't even own a paddle – and a few think they can forget about the boat and just walk on water. Ultimately, the most successful and satisfied are those who abide by the basic philosophy of this cherished nursery rhyme – hard work and the right attitude can help in reaching the right port.
Bruce Seymour is a business consultant and writer based in New Haven, Conn. He can be reached at email@example.com. This article is adapted and edited from his book ‘Bulletproof Salesman,’ co-written with Steve Smith.