15 Jul 2009
What Willy Wonka Could Teach the Modern Corporation
I went to my younger 2 kids’ school play last night. They did ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’, a wonderful celebration of children singing, acting, forgetting their lines and generally making every parent in the house go ‘aah’ and all watery-eyed on regular occasions. Wonderful. I did think, as I cycled home, about the story of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Roald Dahl was a master of creating wonderful characters and fantastic situations. Although it has nothing to do with the usual subject matter covered here at Transition Culture, the thoughts I thunked did make me smile as I pedalled through the damp Devon evening, so I thought I would share them with you.
I had a mental picture of Richard Branson going into the Virgin board room one July afternoon and saying, “ladies and gentlemen, as you know I am getting old now and I need to think about the future of this company. I have built it up over many years and I am very proud of it. I have therefore come up with a great idea. A marvellous idea. An astounding idea. I am going to put 5 golden tickets in 5 Virgin products, and then take the 5 people out there that find them, who will all (by an extraordinary coincidence), be children. I will take them on a tour around a Virgin factory with appalling levels of health and safety, until they have all had unpleasant but completely avoidable accidents apart from the one who survives, to whom I will then gift the entire business….. stay with me, I can see I’m losing a few of you here, but stay with me.
Then, each time one of them has an accident, my low paid immigrant workers with appear en masse and mock their misfortune. I’m confident that my lawyers will be able to get round the lawsuits from the 4 families for their children being sucked up chocolate pipes or having experimental foodstuffs trialled on them. Then the one remaining child will inherit the lot and I can retire a happy man. Any questions?”
As a way of designing for succession within organisations it may have a few obvious flaws, but perhaps if Lehmann Brothers had tried it, it may actually have brought the kind of fresh thinking into the organisation that their survival depended on? Just a thought.