Ugly Duckling Goes to Work: Wisdom for the Workplace from the Classic Tales of Hans Christain Andersen

Ugly Duckling Goes to Work: Wisdom for the Workplace from the Classic Tales of Hans Christain Andersen




"Foreword by Stephen R. Covey

Are outer demands for more success, more money, and more prestige overwhelming your inner longings? Is your work no longer energizing you? For many people in the work world, years of frenetic activity and blind ambition are actually killing them. They are enslaved to the opinions of the financial burden of an extravagant a crushing fear of failure.

The great Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen succinctly illuminated foibles like these in his treasured fairy tales for children and adults. Now, the powerful lessons of these classic folk tales have been ingeniously applied to the complexities of the modern workplace.

The Ugly Duckling Goes to Work probes H. C. Andersen’s sharp and witty stories for lessons that will inspire you to bring more meaning, more energy, and more joy to your work — to create a meaningful work life. You’ll read about:

• The Emperor’s New Clothes: This prickly story pokes fun at phoniness and snobbery and shows how fear and ego can drive you to foolishness. You’ll learn to reclaim your own agenda by using two terrific fool-detectors: self-awareness and candid conversations.

• The Ugly Duckling: This fierce tale of rejection, survival, longing, learning, and growing teaches you that success is not just having a great career, but finding out where you belong and becoming the person you were meant to be.

• The Dung Beetle: The dung beetle, a self-absorbed and status-driven creature, provides a cautionary example of the need to get past illusions and face the reality of your strengths and weaknesses in order to succeed.

• The Nightingale: This charming story looks at a plain little bird that sings the most enchanting songs, drawing its strength from nature, meaning, and freedom — in sharp contrast to the gold, titles, and applause that motivate the emperor’s court. The tale teaches you to push beyond mere perfunctory performances and reach your full potential.

In addition to the concise summaries and probing analyses of H. C. Andersen’s tales, The Ugly Duckling Goes to Work includes the author’s new translations of the full texts, which restore the humor and rich detail often muted in previous English translations. Simple but never simplistic, these insightful interpretations and translations of some of the most cherished stories ever written will help you look deeply at your life, laugh lightly at your flaws, and make the changes needed to build a more meaningful, joyful work life."

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780814408711
Publisher: AMACOM
Publication date: 03/28/2005
Pages: 208
Product dimensions: 5.76(w) x 7.78(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range: 17 Years

About the Author

Mette Norgaard, M.B.A., Ph.D., is a frequent speaker on personal leadership and an executive coach and strategy consultant who has worked with senior leaders from organizations such as Microsoft, Intel, Coca Cola, General Electric, and Daimler Chrysler. Prior to starting her consulting company, she was a senior consultant at the FranklinCovey Company. Born and raised in Demark, she now lives in New York City.

Read an Excerpt

The Ugly Duckling Goes to Work

By Mette Norgaard


Copyright © 2005 Mette Norgaard
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-8144-0871-0


Work can bring us alive, but it can also kill us.

In my interactions with leaders I have noticed four persistent patterns. First, most professionals are ambitious, talented, and hard working. They are also savvy about the steps, rules, habits, and rituals for success. Moreover, they relentlessly push themselves to become ever better managers, leaders, spouses, parents, and athletes. These three patterns keep them so busy that they lead to a fourth one: They rarely slow down, reflect, and connect to their essential way of being, their inner wisdom.

This book is for people who want to make smart and wise choices, who want a comfortable standard of living and a good quality of life. It is for those who want to feel alive in their work, who want a work life.

While this book invites you to consider substantive questions about the meaning of life and work, it does so in a lighthearted manner. Rather than studying Plato or Descartes, we will learn from an ugly duckling, a gnome-like "nisse," and a nightingale. Instead of interpreting Dante and Shakespeare, we will explore the lives of a vain emperor, a swaggering dung beetle, and a restless fir tree. That is, we will use fairy tales as a way to understand human nature. For centuries elders have used fairy tales to speak to the dilemmas and conflicts of everyday life, to help us understand our need for meaning and deal with life's painful surprises.

I was born and raised in Denmark, so Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales were an integral part of my upbringing. In my home, the 150th anniversary edition of his fairy tales was kept right next to the twelve-volume encyclopedia. It was a weighty book, with a leather spine and gold-rimmed pages, and it was handled with affection and respect. In the evenings, after we kids were cleaned up and ready for bed, the volume would be taken down and my father would read to us. My favorites then were the simple tales like The Princess and the Pea and The Swineherd, but other tales saddened, frightened, or disturbed me. Only as an adult did I begin to appreciate the depth of these stories. Where I before had been in tears over the little mermaid's demise, I now understood the beauty of unconditional love. Where I thought little Claus's behavior (Little Claus and Big Claus) was deceitful and nasty, I now saw a "little guy" outwitting a tyrant. I discovered what every Dane knows, that Andersen's stories were written for both children and adults.

Over the years, my appreciation for the author has continued to grow. As I began to study Andersen scholars, I understood why, as there is a clear pattern to his writing. Andersen's "heroes" are authentic, congruent, and real; his "villains" are narrow-minded, self-satisfied, and smug; and his hope for us is that we enjoy every moment and also grow into the person we were meant to be. Such a philosophy is close to my own heart and work.

During his formative years, the young Andersen spent hours listening to the old women tell folk tales in the spinning room where his grandmother worked, and his early stories were inspired by those tales. His most beautiful and complex stories, though, integrate this folk wisdom with his own experience and imagination.

Unfortunately, in the Anglo-American world most people are unfamiliar with the depth of Andersen's writing. Having pigeonholed him as a quaint, Victorian-era children's author, they have been deprived of his insights and wit. I hope my new translations and the discussions in this book will help remedy that. Because, in my experience, an emperor's heavy-handed use of power and a fir tree's restlessness are deeply relevant to the twenty-first century workplace.

To help the readers see Andersen as we Danes do, I shall use the name H. C. Andersen throughout the rest of this book. In Denmark we never call him Hans Christian Andersen. Using his first name would seem too familiar, but simply calling him Andersen would not work either, as we have too many of them. To us, he is always H. C. Andersen.

The book is organized into six independent chapters, each based on one of H. C. Andersen's classic tales. You can approach these chapters in sequence or simply start with those that interest you the most.

Three of the tales are cautionary (The Emperor's New Clothes, The Dung Beetle, and The Fir Tree), and they show us the consequences of being overly concerned with other people's opinions, rewards, and recognition. The other three tales are inspirational (The Ugly Duckling, The Nisse at the Grocer's, and The Nightingale), and they deal with the topics of longing, balance, and professional mastery. The first group of issues is largely pragmatic and requires doing, and the second is essentially idealistic and concerns being. Part of the lesson is that neither one should be carried too far, or we may spin off into mindless activity or become excessively self-absorbed.

Pragmatism and idealism are both useful when they complement each other. Today, however, other people's expectations tend to overwhelm our deepest interests. Many even dismiss their longings as being impractical and feel more accountable for the corporation's goals than for their own potential. If that is your situation, it is time to bring a little wisdom to your work.

Each chapter is structured the same way, giving you a choice in how to approach the stories. After a few introductory paragraphs, you can read either the brief Summary or the entire Classic Tale before you proceed to my commentary, titled The Tale at Work. If you choose to read the summary because you want to get to the work-related comments more quickly, you can always return to the full tale at your leisure.

You may approach this book in a relaxed manner and just enjoy each chapter. You could also choose to get more involved and contemplate the issues raised in the text. Incidentally, your conclusions from each tale may be different from mine; this often happens in workshops and in my discussions with family and friends, for each of us have learned different lessons about human nature and life.

The stories also offer a fun way to address tough issues with your colleagues. For example, The Emperor's New Clothes makes it possible to talk about what things are "undiscussable" on one's work team, and The Ugly Duckling enables us to talk about how we can encourage one another's strengths. Accordingly, at the end of each chapter I suggest a couple of topics for group discussion.

My passion is helping individuals to be authentic and alive in their work and helping create workplaces that make room for people's best energy. H. C. Andersen's tales are an inspiration as they show us how to release life rather than control it.

I invite you to bring H. C. Andersen with you to work. You don't need to tuck the tales under your arm and skip along the corporate corridors reciting The Ugly Duckling. You can simply let the tales inspire you to bring more meaning, more energy, and more joy to your work-to create or improve your work life.


Within each chapter you will find my own translations of H. C. Andersen's tales. This is meant to remedy the many shortcomings of earlier renditions. Traditionally, much of the humor and rich detail in H. C. Andersen's tales has disappeared in English versions. Early English translators had little knowledge of Danish, so they translated from already existing German texts. To compound the problem, they freely edited the text to fit Victorian-era sensibilities, deleting many of H. C. Andersen's sharp and pointed comments. The translator's challenges persist to this day, though they are different. Current publishers often want to give the 150-year-old texts an easy flow and a contemporary feeling. Let me give just two examples. In The Emperor's New Clothes the charlatans prey on people's fear that they may be seen as "unfit for [their] position or impermissibly stupid." The direct translation of the original Danish words "utilladelig dum" is "impermissibly stupid," which is unusual in English. So translators in the past have used "inadmissibly," "incorrigibly," "unforgivably," or "hopelessly" stupid. But the original "utilladelig dum" is also an unusual choice in Danish. To me, H. C. Andersen's intentionally strange choice almost suggests that we may come across permissible stupidity in our life, but then there is real stupidity, which is impermissible.

A more serious problem with contemporary translations is that they may even change the meaning of the original text. For example, in Hans Christian Andersen: The Complete Fairy Tales and Stories (1974) the translation of The Dung Beetle makes two intolerant frogs sound merely critical. One frog would like to know:

... if the swallow, who travels a good deal in foreign countries, ever has been in a land that has a better climate than ours. As much rain as you need; and a bit of wind, too-not to talk of the mist and the dew. Why, it is as good as living in a ditch. If you don't love this climate, then you don't love your country.

My more faithful translation reveals what the frog really wants to know:

... if the swallow who flies so far and wide, if it, on one of its many trips abroad, has found a better climate than ours. Such gusts and such wetness! It's just as if one were lying in a wet ditch! If that doesn't make one happy, well then one certainly doesn't love one's homeland!" [emphasis added]

The second translation is more accurate, showing us how H. C. Andersen engages the senses to make us really feel the wet and windy morning. But what is more essential is the nuance of the word certainly, without which the sentence is just an observation, rather than the self-righteous statement that H. C. Andersen meant it to be. We come across this when we hear statements like, "She certainly is gone a lot." "He certainly isn't a team player."

H. C. Andersen was often the recipient of such judgmental attitudes. In particular, he was faulted for being overly fond of traveling and having too many German friends. With the exchange between two self-satisfied and smug frogs, he gives the reader the opportunity to ponder, "Could there be an intolerant frog in me?" Fortunately, Andersen keeps it light, avoids preaching and moralizing, and quickly moves on to a new vignette.

My aim in these translations has been to maintain H. C. Andersen's own style and choice of words whenever possible. As a consequence, while you may find some of the wording unusual and even slightly awkward at times, I trust you will appreciate the freshness and insights gained in exchange.


Excerpted from The Ugly Duckling Goes to Work by Mette Norgaard Copyright © 2005 by Mette Norgaard. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

"Foreword by Stephen R. Covey


1. The Emperor's New Clothes

2. The Ugly Duckling

3. The Dung Beetle

4. The Nisse at the Butcher's

5. The Fir Tree

6. The Nightingale




About the Author"

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"The Ugly Duckling Goes to Work by Mette Norgaard is full of great wisdom for the workplace. It also enchants the heart." — Ken Blanchard, coauthor, The One Minute Manager (R) and Customer Mania

"I don’t like this book…I love it. My Danish parents had me cut my teeth on Hans Christian Andersen’s classic tales. Now Mette Norgaard illuminates Hans Christian Andersen’s wisdom, brilliance, humor, and insights so eloquently that this is a great book that you will read, re-read, and share with those that you love and with whom you work." — Mark Victor Hansen, cocreator, #1 New York Times bestselling series Chicken Soup for the Soul (R), coauthor, The One Minute Millionaire

"As a child of Scandinavian heritage, the rich fables of Hans Christian Andersen were often read to me in the hope that some of the wisdom would be absorbed. Today, as I live into my calling to bring life to work, the fingerprints of Andersen are ever present. It is exciting to see how Mette Norgaard has taken this Danish legacy and exposed the wise lessons in such a way that application to life at work is both clear and compelling. The Ugly Duckling Goes to Work is indeed a gift to those who seek to improve the quality of life at work." — Stephen Lundin, the Big Tuna Ph.D., author of the international bestselling books FISH!, FISH! Sticks, and FISH! for Life

"There is no more powerful tool for learning than stories. In this delightful book, Mette Norgaard teases out the wisdom of the tales of Hans Christian Andersen to enlighten our lives in and out of the workplace. I recommend it highly!" — William Ury, coauthor, Getting to Yes, and author, The Third Side"

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