Conversations in Management: Jellybeans

“You can tell a lot about a fellow’s character by his way of eating jellybeans.”

Ronald Reagan.

JellybeansHe was just kidding. The makers of motivational posters have done their best to turn this remark into something profound, but without much luck. The truth is that Reagan loved jellybeans and he had a sense of humor. When he shared his stash it wasn’t to ascertain the true nature of friends, colleagues and other world leaders, it was merely an act of hospitality. So there may not be much to the quip, but what about those jellybeans?

While it might have escaped your notice, National Jellybean Day is right around the corner and the web is buzzing with ideas on how to celebrate. As upbeat as these suggestions might appear, one can’t help but suspect ulterior motives may be in play. For example, confectioners encourage us to commemorate the day by eating more jellybeans and giving them as gifts. Trial lawyers recommend providing kids with needles and thread to make jellybean jewelry. Killjoys (and they are always with us) suggest boring the young with, “educational lessons such as counting games or jelly bean-flavored word jumbles.” Bosses—always on the prowl for morale boosters—mention, “filling up a big jar of jelly beans and having co-workers guess the correct number.” Those of you who’ve spent the day guessing jellybean quantities may try the bartender’s remedy of a jellybean cocktail (which confusingly and mercifully contains no jellybeans). Finding National Jellybean Day a bit overwhelming? You might want to view, The Time You Have (In Jelly Beans). A word of caution, though—having the sum-total of your life equated to a bag of jellybeans may make it hard to resist those jellybean cocktails. Before you begin tippling, however, remember your jellybean etiquette. Yes, the jellybean cognoscenti tell us there are faux-pas to avoid. Don’t eat a crunchy jellybean (it’s stale), don’t eat too many at once (you’ll miss the distinct flavors), don’t assume all black jellybeans are licorice flavored (they’re not) and don’t discount new flavors (tabasco anyone?). There’s certainly more complexity to National Jellybean Day than anyone would have thought!

You may be wondering if the jellybean is really worthy of such national interest. After all, as a people we pride ourselves on being able to distinguish the frivolous from the sublime (Kardashians excepted) and we wouldn’t want to look foolish for enthusiastically embracing the day. The good news is that the American jellybean has an esteemed heritage dating back to the Civil War. That’s when Boston candy-maker William Schraff  encouraged folks to send them to the troops. Schrafft’s innovative hard coating over a soft center let soldiers carry them in their pockets for a lint-free treat which wasn’t the case if mom sent a cake. Since then, its popularity has never abated.

Interestingly, given the complexity of the celebration and the prestige of the jellybean itself, no one can point to the actual origins of National Jellybean Day and there isn’t any sponsor. It just seems to have sprung up of its own accord and continues under its own momentum. Is it possible this special day exists only as a metaphor for so much of what transpires in our lives? Is it some kind of benign cosmic warning? There is, come to think of it, a good deal that we do without understanding why or where it will lead us. But that kind of thinking isn’t in the spirit of National Jelly Bean Day. So get yourself some jellybeans, sit back and eat one for the Gipper!      —Ebert

Leave a Reply