What I Learned in Making My Employees Build a Christmas Tree Out of Business Books

Every management program will teach you that you can't go wrong trying to boost morale and build culture through team-building exercises. We, of course, write about that in the abstract all the time.
So, I figured I'd try it myself.
I just completed a little experiment on my staff here at Entrepreneur. Nothing so bad as electric shock or toying with people's emotions on Facebook.
Rather, I wanted them to build a Christmas tree out of books.
We get sent hundreds of business books a year, all in the hope that someone here reads one and decides to write about it. With apologies to authors (and the PR reps they are paying), most never get opened. The most authors can hope for is that we like a dust jacket and decide it fits aesthetically on our shelves. A $100 bill and the formula for Pepsi could be tucked inside the books on my shelf and I would never know it.
So, they pile up, create clutter and sit dusty and unloved. It's always seemed a bit sad that trees died in vain to create books that sit in our Midtown offices, which is as close as I'll ever get to waxing environmental.
Then came Christmas season, which, as every New Yorker knows, begins when you can't walk a block without hearing the infernal clanging of a Salvation Army bell. Suitably in the mood, I wondered, what if we could make sure all those poor noble oaks didn't die in vain to create books no one reads? What if we actually created a tree with these spawn of dead trees, and made it festive to boot? Circle of Life, and all that.
So the editorial staff of Entrepreneur in New York was given a task: Take as many books as you need and build our office a Christmas tree. Make it festive. Make it look real. Make us proud.
What I Learned From a Christmas Tree Made of Business Books
Image credit: Entrepreneur
You may think I'm out of my gourd and that this was a monumental waste of time. You're spot on and irretrievably wrong, respectively.
In fact, it turned out to be a fantastic way to learn about my own team and give me ideas for the coming year.
So, what did I learn? Seven things:

1. They have amazing analytical skills.

This wasn't so much an art project as a scientific experiment. When you build something out of so many parts, you have to have a strategy. Before they set a single hardcover on the floor, the reporters made a plan. They decided how wide the base needed to be. They separated hardcover from soft. They stacked books based on size, so they had easy access to materials.
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That, my friends, is geometry and physics and architecture. I had a bias against them, given that most followed a humanities path in college, that the science and planning behind a project like this would discourage them. Rather, they tackled that part with ease. My bad.

2. They are visual.

Journalism is a creative function. In the end, we are more mad artist than mad scientist, but we express our art through wordcraft and storytelling. I was impressed by how aesthetics played a role in the staff's thinking. Once all the books were organized, they re-arranged them based on color, so that each layer had its own palette. It would have been easy to simply stack based on size, but they added the extra step of ensuring that each layer was pleasing to the eye. There was a visual theme, as a result – something that took me by surprise.  Read More