Maybe, the best business blog you will read

‘There is a Taoist story of an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically.

“Maybe,” the farmer replied. The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed.

“Maybe,” replied the old man. The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune. “Maybe,” answered the farmer. The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out. “Maybe,” said the farmer.’ (Link to this version of the story)

I can’t count the number of times in my business career that an event’s outcome became something other than what we had anticipated. One year, for example, our then largest customer a huge British retail chain, suddenly decided it would shrink its supplier base from 75 to 12 distributors. We were to be one of those supplier who were cut. One of the reasons they gave for terminating our relationship was that they were reducing their commitment to retail box software, the major category we then supplied. As a result, overnight, we lost 10% of our business and a major strategic account. We were devastated.

However, this action caused us reflect on our future strategy. We came to the conclusion that they had noticed some longer term trends than we as a much smaller player, had not seen. We used this blow to conduct a strategic review and decided to reposition the company. It was the result of that review that we took the decision to refocus the business from retail products to enterprise software and the value-added reseller market, then a relatively small part of the business. Over the coming years, the business grew 40%pa taking us from £9 million to £36 million in sales and record profits based around this decision.

Many things in business are outside of our control. Often they will appear good or bad news, but before we project too far into the future, perhaps we should say to ourselves, ‘Maybe….’

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