The Business Poet – Chapter 3

The Business Poet – Chapter 3

On Profits

The head of finance wanted to get straight to the heart of the matter, and said, Speak to us of Profits.

The old man smiled a wry smile, consulted his notes, and answered, saying:

“Just as nature cannot survive without water, so commerce depends on profits to quench its natural thirst for capital.

“Profits are the refreshing crystal water that collects in rock pools in the mountainous terrain of business.

“Used wisely, profits are a source of life and rejuvenation – channelled effectively, profits have the potential to sustain a tropical forest, or to green a barren wasteland.

“But if the flow of fresh water through the pool is blocked, the water becomes stagnant and a breeding ground for disease.

“If profits are excessively horded, rather than fairly and productively distributed, the dam of popular discontent will eventually burst, causing indiscriminate damage to all who happen to lie in its flood path, and leaving behind scars where the integrity of the commercial system has been eroded.

“Like the water cycle in nature, profits are part of a larger cycle of financial resources circulating through enterprise and society.

“A farsighted business will seek to understand and contribute to balance in the whole system, looking both upstream and downstream for any signs of impending drought, excessive damming activity or pollution of the water supply.

“The wise manager will be acutely concerned about the looming crisis of economic desertification in many marginalised areas of the world, which threatens to disrupt the entire water cycle unless it is reversed.

“Profits are one measure of success in business, but only one of many.

“Only a fool would try to argue that the water cycle is more important than the oxygen cycle or the carbon cycle, when in truth they are wholly interdependent.

“Likewise, pursuing a business model that emphasises profits ahead of people or the planet only serves to undermine the very fabric of the economic system and will end in ruin.

“Decisions about how and where to channel profits are best made by those who are intimately familiar with local needs and conditions.

“Effective water management demands first hand knowledge of nuances in the landscape, variations in geological patterns and micro-climatic moods, together with an understanding of the intimate needs of the resident populace.

“Beware, therefore, of the vagaries of scattered shareholders, absent landlords and remote executives.

“The destiny of something as precious as water is far too important to trust to the hands of the self-proclaimed ruling few, or the self-indulgent faceless many.

“Let those who have helped to build the waterways and nurture the rain and negotiate the open sluices, drink also from the fountain of profits, as just reward for their tireless labour.

“But do not forget to also extend the life-giving chalice to those less fortunate, who do not share the privileges of prosperity, for whatever reason.

“Remember those who live in the desert of deprivation, with no oases on the horizon to relieve their parched existence.

“Remember those who are surrounded by great rivers of abundance, but have not been granted the drinking rights of the employed.

“And share your profits generously with those who are dying of thirst, for giving without expecting to receive in return profits the heart and the soul, and there is no greater wealth.”

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The Business Poet – Chapter 2

The Business Poet – Chapter 2

On Work

A loyal employee representative from the trade union, who had never been afraid to speak his mind, was the first to take up the challenge and, continuing in the style of The Prophet, said, Speak to us of Work.

Everyone’s attention turned to their former leader whom they held in such high esteem, curious and expectant, to see how he would respond. He smiled as he recalled jotting down his thoughts on the meaning of work, and in his mind he knew exactly in which notebook and on which page he would find the passage. He thumbed the pages and soon had his forefinger marking the appropriate place. He looked up, cleared his throat, and with a strange feeling of hearing the echo of his own thoughts, began to read:

“Conventional wisdom says that some live to work, while others work to live, but both extremes are undesirable.

“Those that lose themselves in their jobs, or titles, or careers, are lost indeed, for they filter life’s rainbow through the prism of work and declare the world one colour, with themselves the master of a single hue.

“Those who find themselves chained to employment, whether from desperation or fear, are prisoners of the darkness who see life’s bright rays, at best, through the bars of impotence and boredom.

“Both types are victims of insecurity and false identity, for work does not define us, but gives us the opportunity to define ourselves.

“Career choices do not dictate our worth, but allow us to celebrate our worth.

“Job titles say more about our sense of self-importance than our ability to do important work.

“Employment does not equate to the contribution we are making to society, nor the potential we have to make a positive difference in the lives of others.

“It is a strange irony that the most valuable work is least valued in our material world, while the most selfish pursuits are glorified and richly rewarded.

“We live in an age of inverted values.

“As with Nature, so too with work: the smallest, humblest and least visible are the most pervasive, productive and critical – the very foundation on which the balance of life depends.

“The modern economy is an attempt to create a neatly manicured garden, sterile and devoid of the disorderly profusion of wild growth.

“Unshapely jobs are severely pruned every season and non-conforming workers are weeded out and discarded on the refuse pile of the unemployed.

“Surviving staff are fertilised with financial incentives, trellis-bound through management-by-objectives, and sprayed with market mantras to increase resistance to the buzzing, biting pests of social and environmental activism.

“For society to blossom, diversity must be allowed to flourish: budding talents must be nurtured and the acorn latent inside the oak tree must be cherished.

“Only when survival is not dependent on growing in the limited garden of formal employment will we witness the true bounty of human nature.

“Only when we create an environment in which the tender tendrils of youth can climb towards the warmth of their inner calling will we reap a full harvest of what is possible.

“True work is service in action, creativity in motion, meaning in the making.”

Merlin looked up from his entranced soliloquy, somewhat anxious, unsure how his words had been received. But he needn’t have worried. The human collage of nodding heads, smiling faces and appreciative whispers was a picture of support and encouragement. So, they continued.

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The Business Poet – Chapter 1

The Business Poet – Chapter 1

On Letting Go

It was time to leave. A bitter-sweet time. Merlin Wood felt sadness, but also contentment. The business he had conceived and birthed and nurtured was mature enough to stand on its own feet now. To live out its own life.

He gazed around the room at the people who were gathered for his farewell. For so many years, this had been his family. Together, they had endured; they were survivors, through thick and thin. They had been triumphant in their successes; downhearted in their failures. He did not know them all intimately, but he felt a shared sense of belonging. To many, he had been close enough to know when there was cause for some or other personal celebration. Others had trusted him enough to unveil their insecurities, to let their pain show.

But now, it was time to let go; to entrust them with the business. Ironically, the way he saw it, the company was not the legacy he was leaving at all. In fact, on the surface of it, there was not much remarkable about the business itself. It was not the biggest, nor the smallest. It was profitable, but not excessively so. It sold good quality products, but nothing spectacular. He had always maintained that the value of the business was not in its bricks and mortar, or its cash-flow or dividends. The real value was in the way in which the business lived and breathed and kept its people alive and passionate.

That was the real gift he had given them. And that was why he was leaving behind his scruffy notebooks in the boardroom cabinet – those dog-eared, tea-stained A4 pages on which, over the years, he had jotted down his ideas. Scrawled untidily were the lessons he had learned along the way: about how to make a business ‘fit for human beings’; about how to survive in commerce and still sleep soundly at night; about how to create a company that served society, instead of the other way around. So many thoughts …

It was almost time for the ritual reading. He liked rituals. It was one of the things he had tried to embed in the business, and his farewell was not going to be the exception. He always marvelled at how simple rituals were able to imbue an occasion with meaning. The little ritual he was going to perform now had been conceived by the incoming board of directors. They had suggested that he read extracts from his notebooks to the family, friends and staff that were assembled, in the spirit and style The Prophet, that masterpiece by Lebanese mystic and poet, Kahlil Gibran, whose writings he so treasured. He thought it was a fitting way to go. If nothing else, it would be fun.

As his friends and colleagues began to take their seats, spreading out like a fan from where he sat behind his favourite knotted wooden desk, he traced his fingers around the worn edges of his notebooks, as if caressing the contours of a beloved’s face. On the cover of each book was written ‘My little book of thoughts, wishes and wisdoms’ – numbered one to seven respectively. Flanking the notebooks were two simple, white candles, unlit, tall and upright, like royal guards of honour. He allowed his awareness to drift over the animated whispers that were rippling around the room. It had a soothing effect, as if he was holding a spiral shell to his ear and eavesdropping on the secret, bubbling conversation of an imaginary ocean. Gradually, the fresh breeze of anticipation subsided and a quiet calm settled over the gathering. He took the emergent silence as his cue to begin.

The lights dimmed and the match he struck flared noisily in the dusky hush that had descended. He lit the two candles – symbols of the life of the company – and invited all those present to approach this time together in the spirit of a fireside dialogue beneath a star-spangled night sky. Then he spread his arms wide and, quoting Gibran’s famous invitation with a hint of playfulness in his voice, said:

“People of Orphalese, of what can I speak save of that which is even now moving within your souls.”

There was a murmur of laughter, and Merlin could see people visibly relax, perhaps relieved that the ceremony that had just begun was to be enjoyed, rather than taken too seriously.

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