In 1608, a group of men, women and children left their beloved homes in England for the Holland region of the Netherlands to escape religious persecution. There they found more religious freedom but harder living conditions. They began saving their funds for a journey to escape their troubles and be able to worship God as they would.
After twelve years of living in Holland, the group that later called themselves Pilgrims chartered a passage on two ships out of England – The Mayflower and the Speedwell. Shortly after departing the Speedwell began to take on water and turned back to port. The Mayflower and its group of a little more than 100 Pilgrims continued on.
The Mayflower was a small ship, no longer than the length of a modern volleyball court. It faced terrible storms on the North Atlantic on its journey of 66 days where the ship’s mast would often dip into the cold waves as they were tossed side to side. The group was required to stay below deck so as to not be thrown overboard. One sailor called the group “psalm-singing pukestockings” as that seemed to be the only two activities the group regularly participated in. Miraculously there was only one death on the journey – that of the name-calling sailor.
The ship’s navigation was off due to the storms and they arrived on the cape in what would later be called Massachusetts instead of the current state of Virginia they had planned for. Stretched before them was miles and miles of sand. This was not the farmland they had hoped for. They searched for several weeks for a suitable place to farm.
With the help of providence and two English-speaking Native Americans, Squanto and Samoset, the Pilgrims were taught how to harvest the bay and the land but the yield was insufficient for the harsh winter. More than half of the Pilgrims died during that first winter which they often called “the starving time.” At one point during the winter, the daily ration of food was five kernels of corn and a few ounces of brackish water. They buried their dead and prayed for mercy.
In the Spring, those that had survived learned from Squanto new ways to plant. Each family was given a plot of land to farm themselves rather than the communal farm of the past. They planted and the harvest grew. Their settlement began to grow and prosper.
At the time of harvest, the group’s leaders sent men to hunt so they could have a great feast to celebrate their blessings of a bountiful harvest and to give thanks for the goodness of God. They prepared wild birds, fish, venison, hoecakes, cornmeal pudding and vegetables. They invited their native friends which brought five freshly killed deer, treats made from blueberries, cherries and apples as well as corn cooked in an earthen pot until it became fluffy and white (popcorn). The feast and celebration lasted several days. Praise and prayers of gratitude were offered.
To go through hardship and extremes to a functioning settlement…to go from five kernels of corn to a spectacular feast, truly they had much to be grateful for. As one wrote, “…although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God we are so far from want that we are partakers of plenty.”
As we take time to celebrate with friends and family this Thanksgiving may we give thanks before the feast to be numbered among “partakers of plenty.” May we remember five kernels of corn and everything else in our lives will have greater significance and meaning.
Mark Twain once said, “It is never wrong to do the right thing.”
While living in Brazil, I went to the Bank ATM one morning to withdraw some cash for the week. I requested 100 Brazilian Reias and the machine started spitting out the bills. When it stopped I took the cash and found six 20 Real bills instead of five. I checked my balance and only 100 Reais was removed from my account. I was certain I had received 20 Reais more than was withdrawn from my account
I was in a hurry but I had been given something that didn’t belong to me. I pushed the call button on the ATM and an attendant responded. I explained what had happened and she told me that the machine doesn’t make mistakes. I told her that it did and I asked how I should return the money. She repeated that the machine didn’t make mistakes. Despite trying to return the money that didn’t belong to me, she wouldn’t allow me to return it. While I benefitted that day from an ATM error, I am more grateful that I tried to do the right thing.
In Jon M Huntsman’s book “Winners Never Cheat” he told a story of a handshake deal he had entered into. Before the paper contract was written up the market had changed and the value of the company Jon was selling went up substantially. Jon would give up a sizeable amount of money if the handshake deal was honored. The other party offered to split the difference of the increase in value when drafting the agreement. Jon said that his handshake signified his agreement and that is what the lawyers should draft. He gave up $200 million to keep his word. He gave up $200 million to do the right thing.
We have the opportunity every day in big and small things to do the right thing.
If someone were to ask me what the best decision I ever made was, I would be able to quickly answer – my wife. If someone were to ask me what the best business decision I ever made was, I would have to think a little longer.
Every business owner has to make decisions every day. When you are just getting started, the decisions you make may be the difference between making payroll or not. Sooner or later, there will be a decision you make that you will look back on as the one that put you on a path to success.
I have asked the question of small business owners as well as read what some of them have written. While their decision may not be the right decision for your business, examining what they chose may help guide you in the decision of your own. Here are a few decisions that some of these small business owners said was the best business decision they ever made:
Picking a customer focus and using technology to streamline my processes.
This business owner started off serving everyone and with it they were competing against everyone else who did the same work. He decided to start to narrow his focus towards a specific client type. With the focus, they were able to target their marketing and gain new business as well as become and position themselves as expert providers to their clients.
The second part of their answer was to use technology to track and manage various parts of his business. He was able to see progress in projects as well as the costs that were going into them. This allowed him to make better decisions using data and not just opinions or gut.
Letting Go and Delegating
Another business owner said delegating and letting go of some of the tasks that he felt he needed to be the one to do freed up over 30% of his time to focus on other things to grow the business. Starting out on your own, we get in the habit of doing everything ourselves and letting go can be hard but it really does allow you more time to create more value when you let go of things others could do or even do better than you.
Listening to my customers or my market.
A bakery owner had planned to service only special events but their customers wanted something different – they wanted counter service. The demand for counter service was so great that there were lines out the doors. She quickly made the decision to drop her special events catering plan and began to serve her walk-in customers. The demand continued and she has since opened locations across the country. By offering what the market wanted rather than what she had in mind, she has grown her business tremendously.
My best business decision ever – Leaving my well-paid corporate job and going into business on my own helping my customers rather than just my employer.
What has been the best business decision you have ever made?
This blog allows you to experience the raw, gut wrenching drama of human conflict through accounting in each of its three stages: preparing to do battle, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.