Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Lorax

One of my favorite books is Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax. As sophmoric as it sounds, adults and business leaders can learn a lot from Seuss, and I’d like to share an example.

Bill McDonough, as I relayed yesterday, delivered a compelling conference-opening keynote at GoingGreen. His talk was loaded with sage morsels, elucidating that doing less of bad (energy efficiency, environmental conversation, carbon-credit training, et al) is not the same as doing good. “If all we have is a strategy of tragedy, what are we offering our kids?” he asked. “I’d like to propose a strategy of hope.” The world, he contends, belongs to the living. There is no end game; it’s an infinite game. And (my words/recollection), if you throw something away, where does it go? Where is away if away has gone away? Mind-expanding and eye-popping stuff. Green techies and financiers salivated; the ovation was standing, the elation contagious.

Which brings me to Seuss and The Lorax. When I got home Monday night, I quietly – without waking my five-year-old – pulled my ruffled copy from the shelf. It’s a wonderfully special tome, given to me three-and-one-half decades ago by my long-lost, forever-living-in-Japan uncle Ron. Inside cover, scribed in (toxic?) lead:

I turned the pages, smiling and reminiscing and enjoying each Seussism, every illustration. The Once-ler commences, narrating through his Whisper-ma-Phone:
“Now I’ll tell you,” he says, with his teeth sounding gray, “how the Lorax got lifted and taken away …

It all started way back …
Such a long, long time back …

Way back in the days when the grass was still green
and the pond was still wet
and the clouds were still clean,
and the song of the Swomee-Swans rang out in space …
One morning, I came to this glorious place.
And I first saw the trees!
The Trufulla Trees!
The bright-colored tufts of the Truffula Trees!
Mile after mile in the fresh morning breeze.
The illustrations are kaleidoscopic, a buffet of bright colors, and idyllic place.
And, under the trees, I saw Brown Bar-ba-loots
frisking about in their Bar-ba-loot suits
as they played in the shade and ate Truffula Fruits.

From the rippulous pond
came the comfortable sound
of the Humming-Fish humming
while splashing around.
The rest is lore; the Once-ler builds a small shop and chops down (with one chop) the first of many Truffula Trees. The Lorax appears: I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees. I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues. And I’m asking you, sire, at the top of my lungs, what’s that thing you’ve made out of my Truffula tuft?

The Once-ler and his family progress, chopping Truffula Trees, knitting and selling Thneeds. Innovation sets in:
Then …
Oh! Baby! Oh!
How my business did grow!
Now, chopping one tree
at a time
was too slow.

So I quickly invented my Super-Axe-Hacker
which whacked off four Truffula Trees at one smacker.
We were making Thneeds
four times as fast as before!
And that Lorax? …
He didn’t show up any more.
The Lorax returns, venom in his voice:
NOW … thanks to your hacking my trees to the ground,
there’s not enough Truffula Fruit to go ‘round.
And my poor Bar-ba-loots are all getting the crummies
because they have gas, and no food, in their tummies!
Business is business, and what’s an entrepreneur to do? The Once-ler continues:
I meant no harm. I most truly did not.
But I had to grow bigger. So bigger I got.
I biggered my factory. I biggered my roads.
I biggered my wagons. I biggered the loads
of the Thneeds I shipped out. I was shipping them forth
to the South! To the East! To the West! To the North!
I went right on biggering … selling more Thneeds.
And I biggered my money, which everyone needs.
Alas, from the forest, they heard a loud whack. The last Truffula Tree fell with the smack of an axe. The skies turned grey, the workers left town. All that remained was a resource-depleted land.

The Once-ler wraps, engaging his one-person audience, a young lad with an incredulous grin:
“So …
Catch!” calls the Once-ler.
He lets something fall.
“It’s a Trufulla Seed.
It’s the last one of all!
You’re in charge of the last of the Truffula Seeds.
And Trufullas Trees are what everyone needs.
Plant a new Truffula. Treat it with care.
Give it clean water. And feed it fresh air.
Grow a forest. Protect it from axes that hack.
Then the Lorax
and all of his friends
may come back.”
McDonough: The world belongs to the living. There is no end game; it’s an infinite game.

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