Many hands make light work

24 Apr 2019
James Butcher Avatar
James Butcher
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I’m sure we’ve all heard the expression; it has been around long enough. Apparently, it appears in pretty much all proverb collections from the 16th Century onwards.

Many hands make light work.

It can be used to mean ‘unite in the face of adversity’, or to protect something or someone as a group, but the simple explanation I prefer is simply ‘to come together for a common cause’.

Animals naturally use the strength of the herd to protect the young or the weak. People band together to fight fires. We probably will never know the origin of the expression but the interpretation I like is where people simply join forces when multiple hands are seen covering the flame of a candle or fire when the wind is high. It literally makes the light work (through protecting it).

It may seem an obtuse connection, but the proverb is true in industry. in retail and no more so than in the world of private brands. Which of a brand’s team is resource constrained? Which manager would decline the option for more members in their team? Who would not want ‘more hands’? ...and with that, more pairs of eyes?

There is a simple answer and that is effective supplier engagement. Closer collaboration with the suppliers who make your brand’s products. In a team of (say) five ethical sourcing managers, with 300 suppliers, to effectively share information and collaborate with suppliers means there are effectively 305 ‘ethical sourcing managers’ with eyes on the issues. 300 more pairs of eyes to identify issues with a brand’s palm oil sourcing or human rights issues. 300 more pairs of eyes to effect change, ensure consistency and transform a brand.

The resource constraints for sustainability teams are inevitable. Many brands have a standalone sustainability individual or team in place who are tasked with tackling something as complex and multifaceted as sustainability. Where do they start? Scope emissions? Waste management? Biodiversity? Human rights? Responsible sourcing? Successful supplier engagement and achieving progress on specific brand issues using specific and measurable targets will provide economic, social, and environmental advantages for both brand and supplier. If suppliers are engaged around a common cause…many hands make light work.

And then, for a change I’d like to finish with a joke (found when checking origins of the expression) …

A tribal elder goes into town for the day to run some errands for the village. When he comes back everyone notices that he is carrying a box of things he purchased. Inside they see there is a light bulb.

They found this quite odd, considering they didn't have electricity. Of course, he is the elder, so no one questions him. As the day is coming to an end, they are very perplexed about this light bulb. Finally, someone asks him, "why did you buy a light bulb if we have no electricity?"

In response he calls together the whole village. He gets them to all stand in a big circle. Next, he places the light bulb in the dirt in the exact middle of the circle. Finally, he commands everyone to join hands together. Miraculously, the light bulb immediately begins to illuminate when everyone joined their hands. He then speaks in a very commanding voice, "many hands make light work”.

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