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Bagpipes, Fiddles and Cupcakes (or a good old Slap-on-the-Back)

Recognition, motivation, and engagement are intrinsically linked, but what is the right approach at each moment in time? This is something that many struggle with identifying the right course of action, and timing in both life and in business.

The following explores my musings on this subject.


The anti-war song “The Band Played Waltzing Matilda” composed by Scottish born, Australian singer, Eric Bogle in 1971. The song is based on the lyrics of Australian poet, Banjo Paterson from 1895 and relates to how the band carried on playing despite the bloody battle around them. The song surrounds the bloody WWI battle of Gallipoli in World War I where over 300,000 soldiered were injured or died.

Throughout the centuries, Scottish pipers have been on the field of battle with their fever pitch and call for the soldiers to rally and maintain their positions whether in victory or defeat.

The motivational value of these rally cries is long proven, and one not dissimilar to the motivations, call to action movements in some of the most successful organizations today - its not about the task, its about belief in the movement and the cause. It’s about carrying on no matter what, in the face of adversity, and how the pipers (or the band) continue and sustain the appetite for success.

The Fiddlers

Unlike the bagpipers who have a distinct purpose on the battlefield, instilling fear in the enemy and bolstering the morale of the troops, the fiddlers are the antithesis.

One much referenced example is Emperor Nero who apparently fiddled whilst Rome burned, oblivious of the disaster occurring around him. The definition of the phrase being, to ignore a major problem whilst doing something unimportant, or unrelated to the emergency at hand.

How often have we seen this occur in our lives? One can just look at the climate emergency at hand whilst we bicker over scoring pointless party political power points. Turning a deaf ear to the gun endemic in the United States, with on average, 650 mass shootings (of 4 or more people) over the past three years, and yet still people are free to purchase military grade assault rifles at the supermarket, without any sensible control.

The band on the Titanic are an example more akin to Nero than the musicians on the battlefield as the lifeboats were dropping into the icy ocean below.


Sometimes, even in times of emergency, the littlest things can mean the most. The slap on the back, the words of encouragement, the personal note to say thank you. How we behave and react in times of need is a reflection of our ability, and talent to lead.

As Rudyard Kipling referred to, keeping our heads when all around us are losing there’s, is an important lesson for all of us. In those moments when we are up against it, in the face of adversity, the kindness of cupcakes can be one of those littlest things that can mean the most, and be remembered, often for a very long time.

My favorite Maya Angelou quote has always been:

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

So, next time you’re in an emergency or in a time of need, will you play the bagpipes, the fiddle, or use a slap on the back and cupcakes to lift your team to victory?

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