• John Wastnage

The Thing-ummy Bob



In a session with one of my clients last month the vague shape of a memory of a song or rhyme popped into my head. I wasn't able to bring it into the session because to try to identify what it was would have distracted me from being present with the client in question. Instead, I jotted down 'rhyme' on my notepad and came back to it after the session.


When I did eventually attempt to identify what this memory itch was, all I could 'feel' was its rhythm and a slight sense of its structure: I knew that in these aspects it was somewhat akin to the There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly rhyme and that it related to unknown consequences of one's actions (which is what prompted the recall during my coaching session). A few Google searches didn't get me very far but I persevered and eventually found the song: The Thing-ummy Bob (That's Going to Win the War), popularised during WWII by Arthur Askey and Gracie Fields. You can find the song at 1'52" on the timeline of the video in the link above, but it's worth watching the full newsreel for the 1940s received English pronunciation of the newscaster and for the amazing images.


The song is definitely of its era. It's about the women who took on factory jobs to produce munitions, engines and other war materiel. The lyrics suggest that many of the women were not particularly interested in the roles they took on per se, but that the understanding of how their actions contributed in the end to the war effort gave the job meaning.


"It's a ticklish sort of job

making a thing for a thing-ummy-bob

Especially when you don't know what it's for

But it's the girl that makes the thing

that drills the hole that holds the spring

that works the thing-ummy-bob that makes the engines roar.

And it's the girl that makes the thing

that holds the oil that oils the ring

that works the thing-ummy-bob that's going to win the war."


Now, it may be the case that in actual fact many of these women quite enjoyed the work and understood perfectly well what they were manufacturing. But I'm not going to get into that here. Instead I think it's just a nice example of how understanding the WHY can be more important than the WHAT, and how being part of something bigger can enable you to achieve something collectively that far outweighs what you can achieve alone. I often discuss that latter idea with people who are unsure whether to stop working as an employee in order to become self-employed.


The song also reminds me of a conversation I had during my corporate career with the MD of a business unit that focused on supporting jobseekers to find sustainable jobs. The MD loved business and the corporate world and he used his 'town hall' meetings with staff to update them on the business plan, P&L etc. Sadly the town halls were not well received and morale in the organisation was nosediving...


I arranged a coffee with him and asked if I could draft the bullets for his next address to staff. I understood that most of his employees had spent their whole careers helping people to get into work through careers advice, training and social support. They were not corporate animals and didn't care at all about shareholder value. Instead I helped him to translate his targets into language about outcomes for the people whom his staff cared about. This was their WHY and they were willing to listen to him about the WHAT only after he had explained how it would help achieve the WHY.


Anyway, the song popped into my head and so I decided to write about it here.


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