Saturday Matinee: Learning to Herd with “Babe”

When I came up with the name “Retrieve and Herd” for this blog, it occurred to me that one of the benefits of having a metaphorical title is that it opens up possibilities for further reflection on affiliated topics, and some of those, in turn, might provide additional insights.  In my last two posts, I wrote about the shift in my profession towards the terminology and the concept of prospect development rather than just prospect research.  Part of what that means, though, is that to stay relevant, researchers need to keep learning new skills and new ways of applying and making use of what they know. Or in the terminology of this blog, researchers need to keep learning new and better ways to “herd.”

One of my aims for this blog is to provide resources, advice, and guidance for how one can go about doing that.  Some of those resources will be technical or practical in nature, but others will, I hope, prove to be more inspirational.  It’s in that category that I would place today’s special feature: a brief discussion of the movie Babe and the importance of a sensible system for finding new ways to add value to our organizations.

For those who have not seen it, or who may have seen it and long since forgotten it, Babe is a children’s movie that came out twenty years ago which tells the story of a pig who learns to herd sheep.  Babe comes to Hoggett farm as an orphaned piglet after the farmer wins him in a contest at the county fair.  At the farm, he ends up staying with the Border Collies, Fly and Rex, who have recently had a litter of puppies.

Among the many interesting characters he meets on the farm is a duck named Ferdinand who has taught himself to crow like a rooster because he realizes that if he doesn’t come up with some way of adding value to the farm, he risks ending up on the dinner table.  Ferdinand is but the first of several animals on the farm who instruct Babe in the necessity of having skills that the farmer’s family values:

Ferdinand: Oh, come on. Humans don’t eat cats – why?

Babe: Well, they’re…

Ferdinand: They’re indispensable: they catch mice. Humans don’t eat roosters – why? They make eggs with the hens and wake everyone up in the morning.

Babe: Right.

Ferdinand: I tried it with the hens: it didn’t work. So I turned to crowing, and lo! I discover my gift. But no sooner do I become indispensable than they bring in a machine to do the job. Ohhhh-oh-oh. the treachery of it – a mechanical rooster!

Over time, it becomes apparent that, much like the Border Collies with whom he has been staying, Babe has herding capabilities of his own when the farmer notices him separating brown from white hens.  Farmer Hoggett decides to let Babe try herding the sheep.  Babe takes advice from Fly first, but when he tries to nip at the heels of the sheep, it doesn’t go over well at all, and a ewe named Maa tells him he just needs to ask nicely if he wants the sheep to do something.

As Babe develops more skill with herding, the two dogs, Fly and Rex, get into a fight because Rex feels insulted and threatened by the sight of a pig herding sheep.  He is angry and blames Fly for having encouraged and assisted Babe in developing this skill.  In time, though, even Rex comes around when Babe is taken to a herding competition, and Rex is able to provide some useful advice from the sheep right before Babe’s turn in the ring.

So what does any of this have to do with prospect development?  Aside from the fact that it fit so nicely into the metaphor suggested by the name of my blog, a few lessons from the movie stand out pretty clearly:

  1. It’s important to make sure that you have the skills to keep providing value to your organizations or else you risk being viewed as easily dispensable.
  2. Take advantage of opportunities to learn and develop new skills however and whenever you can.
  3. Find as many allies–both within and outside of your organization–who can help you develop these new skills, or at least who can encourage you as you develop them.
  4. You may encounter some resistance as you learn and grow, but work to maintain a positive attitude.
  5. Recognize that your first few attempts might not succeed, and be prepared to try again with a new approach.
  6. The more you grow in your skills, the more people will come to recognize and respect you for them; don’t be surprised if former antagonists eventually turn into champions of your work.

Do you have additional thoughts to add?  Please leave a comment below, and don’t forget to look for me on Twitter.

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