Have you heard of a flea circus? Well believe it or not, in the mid to late 1800s, the flea circus was a popular attraction, particularly in England and Germany, although some of the most successful ones toured as far as the United States and Canada!
A Little Bit of History
These shows began as a way for watchmakers and jewelers to show off their handiwork. These artisans would create miniature objects – such as chariots – for fleas to pull and manipulate. Famed showman Louis Bertolotto’s flea circus, touted as an “extraordinary exhibition of industrious fleas,” was the hottest ticket throughout London during the 1830s. He and his troupe of tiny performers enjoyed a successful career, delighting crowds across continents for more than 50 years.
So what do fleas that were outfitted with mini props in the 1800s have to do with leaders and employees in the 2020s?
What Job Crafting & the Flea Circus Have in Common
Fleas are exceptional jumpers. Thanks to elastic cuticles made of resilin in their legs, these little creatures can jump, and jump high. To keep them contained, folks like Bertolotto would keep them in a glass jar with a lid screwed on tight. Once contained in the jar, the fleas would jump and jump, continuously bumping their heads. Eventually the fleas would stop jumping so high. After all, repeatedly hitting your head isn’t fun for anyone. After time, the “trainers” could take the lid off and the fleas would no longer jump high enough to escape the jar. They had learned to avoid hitting their heads by minimizing their jumps. I relate this to the concept of job crafting.
When you look at job crafting, it’s all about leaders giving the power back to their people. It’s about encouraging people to frame and mold their job to what they value. It’s the ability for employees to redesign their daily tasks to connect their personal interests to a bigger purpose. When people have the ability to job craft, the likelihood that they will find greater fulfillment and more enjoyment from their work is incredibly high. And when an employee feels this way, the business is impacted for the better too.
People need to realize that they can jump as high as they want. They aren’t trapped by a lid like the fleas in the 1800s were.
Employees Have More Power Than They Know
Leaders must remind the people that they have the power to redesign their relationship with their job. We want people to remove the lid on their own mind and then jump higher. To realize they have freedom in their role and that they have the ability to create something that is even more important to them.
Leaders should create the kind of environment where people on their deathbed might say, “I wish I could spend one more day at the office.” And the reason they would say this is because the fulfillment, enjoyment, sense of achievement, and the love they feel in their personal lives is exactly what they expect and experience in their professional lives too.
Listen in to a recorded discussion on the opportunities for leaders to help their organizations truly flourish, not only in profitability, but in people engagement and happiness.