Goose that Laid the Golden Eggs Revisited

April 7, 2011 05:38 AM
 

Editor's Note: This column was updated and reprised by popular demand. Read the original article: A Lesson from the Golden Eggs, which appeared in the March 2008 issue of Farm Journal.

 
A few years ago, I wrote a column based on Aesop’s fable about the goose that laid the golden eggs. In live presentations and in customer consultations, we explore the lessons of this timeless tale. Aesop, a slave in ancient Greece during the 6th century B.C., was
a masterful storyteller. Each story was intended to instruct and reinforce lessons of timeless virtues and ageless qualities. Of them all, “The Goose that Laid the Golden Eggs” may be the most pertinent to a family business owner contemplating the future.
 
It’s only four sentences long, yet the lessons that can be learned from this parable could fill pages and provide answers to many of life’s questions.
 
A man and his wife had the good fortune to possess a goose which laid a golden egg every day. Lucky though they were, they soon began to think they were not getting rich fast enough, and, imagining the bird must be made of gold inside, they decided to kill it in order to secure the whole store of precious metal at once. But when they cut it open they found it was just like any other goose. Thus, they neither got rich all at once, as they had hoped, nor enjoyed any longer the daily addition to their wealth.
 
Good fortune. Like an arrow headed straight to the target, Aesop used simple expressions to create a tale that cuts to the heart of the matter. In the first sentence, “the good fortune to possess a goose which laid a golden egg every day,” may be likened to the family operation. How often do we find ourselves taking for granted the blessing of our family business lifestyle? All it takes is a setback in the economy, an increase in costs, a downturn in sales or a dismal forecast from an industry expert.
 
But your equipment dealership, like the goose, endows your family with many blessings and a quality of life that may be difficult, if not impossible, to replicate. The family business is the foundation upon which you’ve built the family image. It’s the family’s window on the world, the canvas upon which you paint your memories, the school in which you learn character and values and the stone from which you carve your virtues.
 
The immediate reward from our working efforts (the “egg”) is most obviously money. But it isn’t only dollars and cents. Returns and rewards can be measured in things that money can’t buy, such as the values we embrace: an appreciation for family, security, peace, independence, opportunity, pride in our community, the strength of integrity, ambition to grow and traditions.
 
When it’s gone, it’s gone. The second sentence points an accusatory finger at the negative influence of unbridled greed. People often think that if some is good, more must be better, and getting it all at once must be best. Aesop writes, “not getting rich fast enough, and, imagining the bird must be made of gold inside, they decided to kill it in order to secure the whole store of precious metal at once.”
 
We’ve all thought how much fun it might be to sell out to a wealthy buyer. We might even envy his stroke of luck when one of our peers sells out and moves on. But once it’s gone, you can’t get it back. Each business opportunity is a composite of many elements: the talents, resources, market areas, commodities produced, production, manufacturing relationships and family support of your business.
 
Each sentence in the fable stands on its own merit, but the whole outweighs the sum of its parts. Focus on the reallife parallels that this story suggests. Imagine the disappointment and delusion of discovering that all is not as it appears. For example, I’m sure that the
sentence “But when they cut it open they found it was just like any other goose” brings to mind for each of us multiple illustrations from our own history that demonstrate the seductive fantasy of greener pastures.
 
Sounds too good to be true. As a rule, we’re all fascinated by get-rich-quick, good-to-great stories and the prospect of being propelled to lasting wealth. But we know all too well the real-life outcome, though we may be entertained by the stories and revel in the possibilities. On close examination, we may find that the chance we seek is right under our noses and well within our grasp. After all, as they say, “a problem is an opportunity in work clothes.”
 
The climax in this case is that “they neither got rich all at once, as they had hoped, nor enjoyed any longer the daily addition to their wealth.” The man and his wife bet on a single roll of the dice—traded what was for what could have been, and lost it all. So where, as business owners, do we go from here?
 
Read the story. Think about the lessons. Learn that you may possess a goose, and that it does offer you golden eggs of good fortune, prosperity and abundance. The family may not get rich in monetary equivalents, but not all of life’s riches can be measured in
silver and gold.
 
Use this parable to:
  • quantify the tangible and intangible benefits of family business ownership.
  • evaluate the real opportunities to grow your market.
  • develop action plans to improve the operation.
  • include interested family members and assign goals for improvement.
  • commit to continually reviewing and refining your efforts.
 

Editor's Note: This column was updated and reprised by popular demand. Read the original article: A Lesson from the Golden Eggs, which appeared in the March 2008 issue of Farm Journal.

 
Kevin Spafford serves as Farm Journal Media’s succession planning expert. His firm, Legacy by Design, guides agribusiness owners through the succession planning process. Send questions to Legacy by Design, 2550 Lakewest Drive, Suite 10, Chico, CA 95928, (877) 523-7411 or legacyproject@farmjournal.com.
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