They call this the Holiday season. For years I struggled during this time. I had remarried after a difficult divorce, and my children were not around anymore. My new wife had children, and Christmas was now with a new family. It was tough, but I have adapted and now Christmas seems to be much better. The question in my mind what is Christmas? Is it a time where consumption overwhelms us? It appears that we have gone back to our ways of over spending. It was reported this morning that we have spent more than earned once again. Good for the economy? Maybe in the short term, but maintaining too much debt is not a good thing.
Is Christmas just about family getting together? This seems to be a better endeavor than buying gifts. I love getting together with the family.
Or is it about the birth of a baby and hope? During the Roman Empire the holiday on the shortest day of the year was Saturnalia. The Romans would get drunk and give gifts to each other. Does that sound familiar? This is much like our modern expression of Christmas.
However, Christmas represents the gospel story. Jesus was born in stable, lived, and then died on the cross as a propitiation for our sin. This is what Christmas is all about, but it also represents how old values are sometimes the best values. This is just as true in business.
I saw a book in Barnes and Noble yesterday and bought its E-book equivalent. I didn’t want to carry such a heavy book on the airplane Friday when I go to Honduras. The title of the book is “The Great Deformation.” David Stockman explores how Capitalism has been corrupted in America to become more like Italian cronyism. Stockman argues that through TARP, “Free markets and prosperity are deeply imperiled because the state and its central banking branch has failed miserably due to overreaching, overloading, and outside capture. They have become the tools of a vicious form of crony capitalism and money politics and are in the thrall to a statist policy.”
I am not too sure it is that bad, but the one thing I do know is how we practice business is different today than it was fifty years ago. Wall street is now a “reckless, dangerous, and greed-driven casino,” always on the trail of rent-seeking, looking for what it can gain without giving back to society. This is problematic, but it did get me to thinking if there is anyone who does business the good-old way? I immediately thought about an Amish merchant I met in Intercourse, Pennsylvania. So how do Amish do business? Are they all farmers, or are they entrepreneurs?
On May 4, 2010 CNN ran a report that discussed Amish entrepreneurs. The headline for the article was “Why Amish Businesses Don’t Fail.” Amish businesses have a 95% success rate at staying open at least five years. This is an incredible number, especially when the success rate for others are around 50%. Why are the Amish more successful, and what can we learn from them?
The Amish work incredibly hard. Remember when I discussed the Puritan work ethic. They embody that ethic and view industriousness as a call of God. They also believe in cooperation. Their culture is one that they come around each other to help. They know how important relationships are when doing business. But, they also stick to what they know. They know quilting, handmade, traditional, and rustic goods and make them well. Therefore visitors will come into their communities to buy their products, thus infusing their communities with cash from the outside. This is good for their sub-economy.
However, they also run their businesses God’s way. CNN reports, “The Almighty has been a good business coach for Miller, a 40 year-old father of six. He started his company 15 years ago and now has two separate entities: Four Corners Furniture a retail furniture-making operation open to the public, and Miller Bedroom wholesale, which sells directly to distributors.” Miller has an eighth grad education, common for the Amish, but knows how to work hard and be honest.
The Amish are selective in what type of business they will start. They will never create a business that is morally questionable. “Don’t hold your breath waiting for an Amish-owned casino, liquor store, or debt-collection service.” They stay true to there convictions, drawn their own lines, and don’t cross them, which is how they can maintain their strong business values.
So what could modern business learn from the Amish? First there is the lesson of hard work. There is something cathartic about working hard. You feel good when you accomplish something. Second, in association to what this blog is about, good business mean good relationships. The Amish know how to accomplish things in community. Third, honesty is always the best policy. Treat your customers well and give them a good product or service at a good price and you will be successful. And lastly, know what you can do, how you can do it, and what your values are. Once you have determined those things, then don’t violate them. Be true to yourself.
Not bad lessons to think about during this Christmas season. Merry Christmas all!
And that is my thought for the day!