Archive for the ‘analogies & metaphors in business’ Category

The Psychology of Hobbits

Sunday, January 6th, 2013

The tale of Bilbo Baggins, central character of The Hobbit, is the tale of how a conservative, comfortable, respectable and timid suburban dweller sets out on adventure and finds himself braver and wiser as a result.

The Hobbit is a morality tale of self-discovery and self-knowledge. Despite his comfort, satisfaction, creature comforts and smugness, Bilbo Baggins in his middle age, finds himself uncharacteristically rising to the romance, lure and challenge of the unknown, and begins his journey of self-discovery doing what few hobbits before him have ever done: having an adventure.

Tolkien’s The Hobbit, now recently brought to the screen by New Zealand’s Peter Jackson, was written in the 1930’s in the context of an English audience, who would have easily seen themselves gently parodied in the suburban mildness of the timid hobbits (just as New Zealanders are probably now doing with the release of the movie), and is often interpreted as Tolkien’s warning against the menacing gathering “darkness” of World War II.

Whether the looming war influenced Tolkien’s thinking and writing, or not, The Hobbit taps into quite deep human psychological themes and archetypes. The hobbits, with their meek and comfort-loving spirit, represent the ordinary, suburban dwellers in most of us, who, by choosing safety and comfort above all else, sacrifice adventure, challenge and wisdom. The Trolls represent thick-headed stupidity, the Goblins evil and depravity, the Dwarves stoic solidity and doggedness, and the Elves the higher, lighter, more shining spiritual and philosophical side of ourselves.

By tapping into these deep psychological archetypes that appear in his writing as well as in the mythology and legends of most human cultures, Tolkien was able to weave a spell of simply and engagingly told adventure, while at the same time teaching us much about ourselves.

And Bilbo Baggins is the Everyman character in this particular morality tale. He is the character most of us can empathise and associate ourselves with, and we will do well to do so.

Bilbo left his comfortable life for an adventure full of risk, danger, but much reward, and the adventure changed him permanently. Along the way, he found himself. Bilbo lost his innocence, naivety and softness, but he gained wisdom, confidence and bravery. Bilbo learnt to face his fears. He learnt that for higher wisdom, self-knowledge and bravery, there was a price to pay, but that the price was well worth it. Bilbo Baggins became a hero, and his adventure became legend in Middle Earth.

With the recent release of The Hobbit in time for the 2013 New Year, and with our own modern psyche so closely tied up with the sweeping challenges of financial uncertainty across the world in recent years, it’s a perfect time to take stock of ourselves and the lessons The Hobbit has to teach us. We can look beyond the confines of Middle Earth.

In business and in life do we want to be hobbits – comfortable and safe, but scared and timid, closed in, small-minded and vulnerable, frightened of development, change and adventure? Or do we want to be open minded, open hearted, spirited and up for challenge in the wider world?

We can all learn from Bilbo Baggins.

We can hide in our safe suburban and small worlds where we are protected behind our round hobbit doors, or we can go out into the wider world and find adventure and new horizons and the courage to face up to challenges. We have choice, and if we choose adventure, we choose knowledge, wisdom and great reward, as Bilbo did.

View Trailer: The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey


Lynette Jensen

Lynette Jensen is a director and co-founder of Genesys Australia and is committed to helping people achieve work-life balance through good job fit. In addition to contributing to this blog, she also writes regularly for HR Daily Community and Dynamic Business Magazine. Her articles have been re-published in India & the United Kingdom.

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Staying Afloat: Boats & Analogies

Friday, December 24th, 2010

I was inspired to get a boat by Virgin boss Richard Branson, when I read in his autobiography about the London canal boat he lived aboard, and later held meetings on. Holding meetings aboard a colourful old wooden boat sounds like a good idea to me, because I like the idea of making work as satisfying and rich as the rest of life, so that life becomes integrated and the “work-life balance” is almost completely imperceptible.

So I bought Great Train Robber Ronald Bigg’s old boat, Aphrodite, and had her transported to my sister’s property on Oxley Island in NSW, where she currently bobs away at the end of my sister’s jetty.

The only problem is, she’s on the Manning River, which is four hours drive north of Sydney, so I can’t really hold meetings there, although if you are up for a long drive, I’ll happily entertain you when you get there.

Instead of having meetings, I spend my days on board watching birds and dolphins, listening to the gentle sloshing of the water, restoring and repairing, writing, reading books, and thinking. I have never been in an atmosphere of such bliss and inspiration before in my life.

What I like most about my boat is the metaphor for life and work she provides. “Staying afloat” has a whole new literal meaning. And to literally, physically, face up to that challenge, through storms, rain, floods and wind is both humbling and cathartic. No matter how big my ego might get, no matter how smart I think I am, or how philosophical my thoughts and revelations might be, there is just no way I can ignore the simple truth of physics and the weather. If the boat gets a hole, if you don’t plug it, you’ll sink. If the pumps fail, and water builds up, you’ll sink. If there isn’t enough sun to keep the batteries that run the pumps going, you’ll sink.

Like King Canute, and the Dutch Boy who held his finger in the dyke, human beings and their egos cannot overcome physics, we just have to learn to live with it and manage it.

I find this constant lesson Aphrodite teaches me enormously helpful. We use lots of catch phrases in business and the general community, especially sports analogies, but to constantly face the challenge of keeping an old wooden boat afloat is to really understand the underlying literal meaning of the metaphors, and therefore what life is all about. It’s why some companies send their staff away to boot camps, or to climb mountains, or to fly on the trapeze – they believe that the physical challenge and hardship will make them generalize into other areas of life, particularly work, and help them to face up to challenges and learn to manage and over-come them, often by learning to work together in “teams”.

But I don’t have to do that, I just have to live aboard my boat for a few days.

While I wish I could invite you to meetings aboard Aphrodite, perhaps I have a better thing. Aphrodite provided a place for Ronald Biggs to hide out in Port Adelaide, but for me she provides a place to learn to stay afloat – literally and metaphorically.

Lynette Jensen

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* This is a personal view and does not necessarily represent the opinion, belief or policy of the company. More posts below.