Lessons From A Wise Old Man And The Boys Who Loved To Drum

Mukesh Gupta

I would like to tell you a short story. There was once a wise old man who, after retiring from his work, decided to buy a house in his old village to live out his life in a peaceful setting. All was well until it wasn’t. Each day, a few boys walked past his new home on their way to school. As they walked, they drummed on the metal garbage bins near the wise man’s bedroom window. He found this noise to be very disturbing and wanted the boys to stop. Knowing that it might not work to ask the boys to stop drumming, as they seem to be enjoying it, the wise man decided to do the next best thing he knew. The next morning, he popped out of his house at the exact time the boys started to drum. Once they finished drumming, he called to them and said, “I love the way you drum. I would like you to drum for me every morning at the same time. I will pay you $1 every day.” The boys loved it. They started playing there every day. After a few days, the wise man said that due to the economy being bad, he could pay them only 50 cents for the drumming. The boys were not happy, but they continued to drum for the old man. A couple of weeks later, the old man again brought the boys together and said that, since he is retired and doesn’t have his pension yet, he could pay them only 20 cents a day going forward. The boys got really angry, and the eldest of them said, “Do you really think that we will play drums for your stupid 20 cents? Please find someone else to do that for you!” and they walked away. They never again drummed at this particular spot, and the wise, old man lived peacefully thereafter.

Life lessons from this story

The old man could have tried other ways of getting the boys to stop drumming. He could have reasoned with them, saying it disturbs him and asking them to stop drumming. If that didn’t work, he could have ordered them to stop drumming or complained to their parents and asked them to get the boys to stop drumming. However, knowing that boys of this age are usually not receptive to reason and hate being coerced or ordered to do anything, the wise man decided to be patient and deal with them in a way that they would choose to stop drumming of their own volition and not because they were asked to do so. He devised this plan and got them to stop playing there permanently. Sure, this required some patience and took some time – but eventually, he got what he wanted. So patience, planning, and knowing who you want to influence and what drives them are critical for success. There is an even more important lesson for all of us here. There is a significant difference between play and work. Play is self-motivated and self-driven. It gives us joy and happiness. It is spontaneous and doesn’t require any supervision or a separate reward. However, when the same activity becomes work instead of play, motivation, joy, and happiness start to depend on the rewards and fairness of exchange. In a business setting, it is important to create a culture where people think of their activities as play rather than work. When it comes to rewarding and recognizing employees, we need to know what they think is fun and play and ensure that we don’t make those things feel like work by rewarding those tasks, as the wise man did with the kids.

In conclusion

  • Patience and planning pay off
  • It is better to know what moves the people we want to influence
  • There is always more than one way to solve a problem
  • Don’t do anything that will transform play into work
These are my learnings from this story. What are yours? Please share them in the comments. For more successful employee evaluations, learn the 5 C’s Of Effective Performance Dialogue. This article originally appeared on Musings of a Salesman.

About Mukesh Gupta

Mukesh has more than 2 decades of experience in starting and growing organisations. He has written three books including “Thrive” & “Your Startup Mentor” and has an upcoming book on B2B Selling. In his role as Director - Customer Advocacy, he works closely with the SAP User groups in India, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand and actively represents them within SAP and brings the united face of SAP to the user groups. He has an active blog called “Musings of a Salesman” and hosts the popular podcast “Pushing Beyond the Obvious”.