Rule number 6
Two prime ministers are having an important private meeting. Suddenly, the door is flung open and an official, in great distress, bursts into the room. The resident prime minister cuts him short: “John, remember rule number 6.” The man regains his composure, apologises and bows his way out of the room.
A few minutes later, another civil servant bursts into the room in hysterics. The resident prime minster cuts the drama short, saying: “Joan, remember rule number 6.” Again, a magic transformation. The lady calmly leaves the room.
This happens one more time and the visiting prime minster becomes curious. “Please share what rule number 6 is.” The resident PM replies: “Rule number 6 is don’t take yourself so damn seriously!” The visiting PM replies “What are rules 1 to 5?” The answer? “There are no other rules.”
This wonderful story is shared by Benjamin Zander, an American conductor, in a talk to educators where he implores them not to take themselves so seriously. We have recently seen this modelled on the world stage.
Michelle Obama, America’s First Lady, was seen dancing on stage to drive home her message about fighting childhood obesity with physical activity. It was fun, and worked for her young audience. Humour and the energy of dance connected in ways that normal messaging wouldn’t have.
In a recent interview, award-winning actress Helen Mirren surprised and delighted audiences when she sucked on a helium balloon and then delivered lines in a her new helium-altered voice! It had the studio audience in stitches. Mirren showed she was so comfortable in her skin that she could embody rule number 6, without it diminishing her chops as a serious award-winning actress.
Sadly, so much of the business of business has become invested with a moribund gravitas: we have put business communication in a dreary old suit and given it a briefcase to boot. Humdrum, tedious and eye- wateringly boring. We could all do with Benjamin Zander’s imploration to not take ourselves so seriously!
Rule number 6 is a way of being light-hearted and optimistic even while doing important work and your best for a better world.