Our natural inclination in hard economic times is to curtail all spending. Unfortunately, that short-term view sometimes means we forgo investments in people and technology that we’ll wish we had made when the good times return. It’s times like that a good “permission story” comes in handy. It helps provide both wisdom and the courage to make the tough decision to invest anyway. Here’s my favorite such permission story:
The bamboo years
Early in her career at Eastman Kodak, Katherine Hudson had occasion to visit an important customer in Kyoto at the beginning of the Japanese economic crisis. This customer’s father had worked very hard to build a successful family business from scratch. Over the years, they developed a strong and loyal relationship with Kodak.
At this particular meeting, Katherine was surprised when the customer handed her an order for an extremely expensive piece of equipment. “Given the difficult economic conditions in your country, are you sure you want to make this large investment now?” she asked.
He pointed to a large bamboo plant in his office and explained, “See how it grows? It has long spurts of growth and then stops for a while. It’s during the times of slower growth that the bamboo plant builds the strong rings that serve as the foundation for its next growth spurt. Similarly for our business, it’s wise to make whatever investments we need to ready our organization for the future.”
Katherine never forgot that meeting, even after moving to the Brady Corporation as its CEO in 1994. She recounted the story often, especially when working with people struggling over making a necessary expenditure during tough economic times— times they now refer to as “the bamboo years.”
Is your business experiencing “bamboo years” right now? If so, are you building a strong ring for your next growth spurt?
[You can find this and over 100 other inspiring leadership stories in my book, Lead with a Story. I originally came across this story in the book, Stories Trainers Tell, by Mary Wacker and Lori Silverman, and have used my own rendition here and in my book with permission of Katherine Hudson.]
Paul Smith is one of the world’s leading experts on business storytelling. He’s a keynote speaker, storytelling coach, and bestselling author of the books Lead with a Story and Parenting with a Story.
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