Not All Princesses Want to be Rescued

Julia Donaldson writes wonderful children’s books that offer surprising learnings for the adult reader, one of which I’m going to work through in this post. Because not everything has to be intense and serious. Lightness and levity is good sometimes.

Zog is a juvenile dragon in training. He’s not what you’d call talented in the dragoning department. Unlike his peers who seem to be born with natural talent.

With each new skill so it goes that Zog is instructed, fails, is personally taught how to do it, can do it a bit then gets better with practice. But each time he gets carried away with practicing, overdoes it and hurts himself. And each time he’s assisted by a girl named Pearl.

The final task of the fourth year dragon school is to capture a princess. As usual, zog tries and fails. But the only way to learn this skill is by trying to do it in the real world.

A series of failures ensue. It seems princesses are well protected and don’t want to be captured. Zog is feeling like a failure when he once again runs into Pearl. “Perhaps you’d like to capture me?” she says “My name is Princess Pearl”.

You see, Pearl doesn’t want to be a princess she wants to be a doctor. She sees Zog as offering a desirable escape path from her destiny of etiquette classes and fancy dresses.

Zog gets his gold star of achievement and Pearl becomes doctor of dragons. Win win. “Zog was proud and happy and Pearl felt good as well”.

But of course, willing capture or not, from the outside world’s point of view Pearl is still a princess. And princesses are in need of saving. Cue the entrance of a knight in shining armour to the rescue.

The knight and Zog do all the usual posturing and power play involved in chivalrous rescue until Pearl shuts it down and starts a conversation. She doesn’t wish to be rescued. She is where she wants to be. Thanks, but no thanks.

Turns out the knight also wants to be a doctor and asks Pearl if she’ll train him. Zog gets in on it and they form a flying doctor’s service. Their world is better for it.

For some this could be a story about Zog and his growth mindset, but for me this is a story of business or health service development. And Pearl is the CEO.

Pearl has a vision of what she offers the world and the change she wants to make. She is dedicated to improving the lives of the people (or dragons) she wishes to serve. And she has a strategy to make this happen.

Over time by consistently showing up and doing the work Pearl builds trust and credibility with the dragons. She starts with a single relationship, Zog, by bandaging his wing. When she sees the leverage and mutual gain that can be had from offering herself up to be captured, Pearl does just that, expanding her market to the whole group of dragons. Pearl doesn’t cower to the expectations of the outside world when the knight comes to her rescue, she hold firm in her mission. In asserting her power she not only continues on her journey but she enrols the knight in it as well. Together they build, something much larger than she set out to, an innovative service that challenges the norms.

Pearl could’ve taken multiple paths, but she chose to stay true to her mission, show up and serve her people (or dragons) even at the risk of looking crazy for doing so. Zog didn’t do that, he just cared about his own selfish mission of getting his gold stars. The knight didn’t do that, he just carried out his knightly duties and assumed all princesses wanted to be saved. Only Pearl demonstrated empathy and spirit of service.

There are lots of Zog’s and Knights in the world of healthcare, but what we need is more Pearls. If you’ve got an idea for a way of innovating healthcare, be like Pearl. Focus on the problems of the people you’re seeking to serve, start where you are and keep growing.

PS don’t let others viewing you as a princess hold you back!