The Old Woman and Her Pig

(Note: This is the most popular SchoolAdvancement article, with more views than any other article over the past 10 years.)

Since we’ll soon be singing some Old English tunes to celebrate the Christmas season, like “Greensleeves/What Child is This” and “The 12 Days of Christmas,” today’s entry is an Old English tale to explain the concept of Systems Thinking (ST), or, what I like to call “Systemicity,” as it is associated with Advancement.

An old woman was sweeping her house, and she found a little crooked sixpence. “What,” said she, “shall I do with this little sixpence? I will go to market, and buy a little pig.”

As she was coming home, she came to a stile: but the pig wouldn’t go over the stile.

She went a little further, and she met a dog. So she said to the dog: “Dog! bite pig; piggy won’t go over the stile; and I shan’t get home to-night.” But the dog wouldn’t.

She went a little further, and she met a stick. So she said: “Stick! stick! beat dog; dog won’t bite pig; piggy won’t get over the stile; and I shan’t get home to-night.” But the stick wouldn’t.

She went a little further, and she met a fire. So she said: “Fire! fire! burn stick; stick won’t beat dog; dog won’t bite pig; piggy won’t get over the stile; and I shan’t get home to-night.” But the fire wouldn’t.

She went a little further, and she met some water. So she said: “Water, water! quench fire; fire won’t burn stick; stick won’t beat dog; dog won’t bite pig; piggy won’t get over the stile; and I shan’t get home to-night.” But the water wouldn’t.

She went a little further, and she met an ox. So she said: “Ox! ox! drink water; water won’t quench fire; fire won’t burn stick; stick won’t beat dog; dog won’t bite pig; piggy won’t get over the stile; and I shan’t get home to-night.” But the ox wouldn’t.

She went a little further, and she met a butcher. So she said: “Butcher! butcher! kill ox; ox won’t drink water; water won’t quench fire; fire won’t burn stick; stick won’t beat dog; dog won’t bite pig; piggy won’t get over the stile; and I shan’t get home to-night.” But the butcher wouldn’t.

She went a little further, and she met a rope. So she said: “Rope! rope! hang butcher; butcher won’t kill ox; ox won’t drink water; water won’t quench fire; fire won’t burn stick; stick won’t beat dog; dog won’t bite pig; piggy won’t get over the stile; and I shan’t get home to-night.” But the rope wouldn’t.

She went a little further, and she met a rat. So she said: “Rat! rat! gnaw rope; rope won’t hang butcher; butcher won’t kill ox; ox won’t drink water; water won’t quench fire; fire won’t burn stick; stick won’t beat dog; dog won’t bite pig; piggy won’t get over the stile; and I shan’t get home to-night.” But the rat wouldn’t.

She went a little further, and she met a cat. So she said: “Cat! cat! kill rat; rat won’t gnaw rope; rope won’t hang butcher; butcher won’t kill ox; ox won’t drink water; water won’t quench fire; fire won’t burn stick; stick won’t beat dog; dog won’t bite pig; piggy won’t get over the stile; and I shan’t get home to-night.” But the cat said to her, “If you will go to yon cow, and fetch me a saucer of milk, I will kill the rat.” So away went the old woman to the cow.

But the cow said to her: “If you will go to yon hay-stack, and fetch me a handful of hay, I’ll give you the milk.” So away went the old woman to the haystack and she brought the hay to feed the cow. As soon as the cow had eaten the hay, she gave the old woman the milk; and away she went with it in a saucer to the cat.

As soon as the cat had lapped up the milk, the cat began to kill the rat; the rat began to gnaw the rope; the rope began to hang the butcher; the butcher began to kill the ox; the ox began to drink the water; the water began to quench the fire; the fire began to burn the stick; the stick began to beat the dog; the dog began to bite the pig; the little pig in a fright jumped over the stile, and so the old woman got home that night.

The moral?  There’s not just one – there are quite a few:

1) Note that the story doesn’t say what time the woman got home that night.  That lesson is for all those in leadership who think that hiring an Advancement Director means that dollars will magically fall from the sky.  Note the relationships that have to be made before a “little piggy” can get over the fence.  The woman certainly wasn’t going to get a fatted calf over the stile that easily.

2) The simplest task isn’t easy after all. Look how much “further” she had to keep going to achieve her goal, and she may have had to “buy” the hay.  Either the pig didn’t cost her a whole sixpence, or, she had some extra money along for the trip.

3) Many effective solutions are long-term processes;

4) Teamwork is necessary, and everyone needs some type of remuneration or motivation;

5) Chain reactions which solve previously thought-to-be unsolvable problems are sometimes begun with something relatively simple and inexpensive.

6) The desired end result requires a LOT of set up work. You may not see a return on Investment (ROI) for some time, but as long as the processes are in place, you have to keep setting up the dominoes. At some point, the there will be a breakthrough, and then everything falls into place.  As Jack Dixon said, “If you focus on the results, you will not change; If you focus on the change, you will see results.”

7) This is also a lesson in marketing. Today, in turbulent economic times, the instinctive thought is to cut back – but when you cut back, especially in marketing, you run the risk of customers not knowing a business is there anymore, or, in the case of your school, not knowing it’s there anymore. An entity that may have been very visible in the community suddenly decides to protect its “core” processes and eliminate the “fluff” of marketing. While it seems to be the easy decision to make, the net result is that the community believes it is no longer there. What started out as a way to ride out a recession becomes a path to closure. Increasing exposure is actually the way to have to help the business survive difficult times…and that’s thinking which is counter-intuitive to business logic.

Need another example? Look at the stock market. When the market falls, the thought is to cut back investing additional capital in stocks because they’re not performing. Yet, that’s the best time to invest in stocks since share prince are low.  Then, when the cycle reverses itself, those additional shares of ownership will be worth significantly more.

Cut back? Perhaps a little, to prune away some dead branches. But eliminate? No way!

Get more people involved? Always!!

Think differently and more strategically? Absolutely!!

As Christmas approaches, next week we’ll look at how marketing, enrollment, retention and asset management and development become especially important as schools begin to think about preparing for the coming school year. Some may be thinking this is a good time to discuss a year-end gift for development potential. However, if you’re just starting to think about such a thing right now, you’re probably too late. That thought process should have started when the school year began. To succeed in Advancement, you need to shift your timetable to one that allows for sufficient planning for obstacles such as those the old woman encountered in today’s fable.

With that in mind, perhaps you’re able to see what we’re moving towards – which is what Advancement is all about.

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2006-2016