Lesson: Always ask “Then What,” before undertaking any long-term endeavor
In the era of get-things-done-for-the-sake-of-doing, or as our grandfathers called it, the age of the paper-pusher, there is a need for ancient wisdom. This wisdom eludes those too busy to lift their heads out of the grimy work-a-day world for long enough to ask the question: “Then what?”
There are times, we may all be sure, when the fumes from the hustle-and-bustle world bubble the blood of man and he must escape its confines, or suffer a self-imposed pestilence. For our purposes we will pluck a single sample case among millions. Let’s call this man, Harvey the American Businessman.
Harvey was a thriving businessman who yelled at subordinates and donated to causes like eliminating poverty in countries he’d never visited. The yelling had caused the blood boil problem. The donations caused a rare curiosity about the country to his south.
Visiting a small coastal village in Mexico, Harvey was surprised to feel his blood pressure abate, and he felt a strange and rather off-putting desire to walk aimlessly around the beach. On one walk in the late morning, he encountered a fisherman, who wore a big straw hat and a loose tan shirt.
He was pulling his boat up to shore when Harvey noticed that the fisherman had caught several large yellowfin tuna fish. Harvey approached and asked “Sir, how long did it take you to catch those splendidly large fish?”
The fisherman said “not too long, Senor.”
Confused, Harvey looked down at his diamond encrusted watch. His face grew grave as though he were about to yell at a subordinate. Then a sea breeze brushed the skin above his black whiskers, and he recalled the purpose of his vacation. “Why don’t you stay out longer?” He continued, “there’s plenty of time to keep fishing, I’m sure.”
“Yes senor. But I have no need. There is plenty of fish for my family and a few for my friends too.” The fisherman turned aside and began unloading the fish into a basket. He was not being rude; he just had somewhere to go.
“You have a job in the village then?”
“What do you do everyday?”
The man sighed pleasantly. It reminded Harvey of the first sigh after the first night with his future wife. “After fishing I play with my little caballeros, I siesta with my wife, Julia, then I stroll into village to sip wine and play guitar with my amigos.”
Harvey understood. Though he had recently arrived in the village, he knew he was going to make an impact here. Finally, he could find something useful to do.
“Well, sir,” Harvey said with a slight puffing of his chest, “I’m a Harvard MBA. I can help you. If you spent more time fishing and caught more fish, you would have a sizable profit margin. Keep costs low and use the proceeds to purchase another boat. Soon you’ll have a fleet and a brand. We’ll have you sell direct to consumers. You can open your own cannery, thus controlling the product, processing and distribution. Of course, you’d have to move to Mexico City. As your company grows, you’d move to L.A. and eventually to New York. All the while growing your empire and hiring managers to oversee it.”
“But senor, how long would that take?”
“Not long at all! You’re still young. In 20 years, you’ll be head of an empire.”
“What then senor?”
Harvey paused as though he were before a crowd of suited men, “Well, then you’d do what’s called an Initial Public Offering and you’ll make millions and millions.”
“I see. Millions. And then what senor?”
“I’m glad you asked that. Then you could move to a small coastal village on a tropical paradise. You could sleep in late, you could go fishing for a while and play with your family, siesta with Julia in the afternoons, and then go into the nearby village drinking wine and playing guitar with your friends…”