My family had a neighbor with ground that my dad farmed when I was a kid. The neighbor died in a tragic accident and, the following year, his son decided that he wanted to become a farmer.
My dad told him that it wasn’t likely going to work and that he’d be better off acting as landlord than trying to farm the ground himself. The neighbor’s son decided to go ahead with it anyways, convinced he could figure it out.
My dad gave him some initial pointers, but mostly he withheld guidance and sat back and waited for the neighbor’s son to fail.
Farming is resource intensive, skill intensive, high stakes gambling (and, in my opinion, boring.) It doesn’t matter if you’re smart, because by the time you figure it out, you’ll be long out of business.
Not surprisingly, the neighbor’s son quit farming after a year. What did surprise my dad was that rather than give the contract for his ground back to my father, he gave it to another neighbor who had provided advice and guidance when my dad hadn’t.
Last week, I wrote about a business owner that expressed interest in merging with my business. In the conversation with him, I realized that he wanted to take a route that had little chance of success. He wanted to elevate two non-English speaking employees into some form of management and use a third party to deliver them English speaking leads. This is for agency work, where client management is crucial and communication has to be top-notch. Additionally, the two employees have no experience managing a business: they’re expert technicians.
I thought back to my dad’s experience with the neighbor’s son when I heard this. I could see two paths clearly in my mind’s eye:
a) Hang around and wait for them to fail with the hope that we can swoop in like a vulture.
b) Try and help the other business owner figure out a successful path forward.
I don’t believe that everything works out when you’re nice to people. And I don’t think it’s a choice about ethics and that you should protect the interest of others out of moral obligation. But there is a real business advantage to having the good will of others. We tend to be more successful when we help others be successful.
For my situation, I’m going to try and help this other business owner. I don’t expect anything will come of it. However, it’s an approach that pays better across the portfolio of my interactions rather than playing zero-sum games and looking for throats to cut.