Turn Hard Times Into Goat Stew

A short post in the HBR Editor’s Blog called Business Models for Bad Times showcases this quote from the book The Forever War:

One day near Kandahar I came across a minefield, which was hardly extraordinary in itself, and next to it a man named Juma Khan Gulalai. The field was bright and green. Gulalai was a butcher and he’d set up his table there, his apron and knives at the ready. Every day, Gulalai explained, a goat would wander into the green grassy field to graze for its meal and step on a land mine and blow apart. Gulalai would walk into the field and retrieve the carcass–braving the mines himself as he did–throw the old goat up on the table and carve up its meat for sale

My take: This is a bit gruesome, I know. But it does get the point across that there are always opportunities. As a kid, I heard this lesson in much less disturbing phrases like: “Make lemonade out of lemons,” “turn bruised apples into applesauce,” and “bake banana bread with overripe bananas.”

The insight is clear: Even in the worst of times, find a way to make the best of it. And don’t give up on innovation. So execs need to focus on the new management imperative called Turn Innovation Into A Continuous Process, even (more) in a recession.

The bottom line: Remember the lesson of Juma Khan Gulalai!

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I'm an experience (XM) management catalyst; helping organizations improve results by engaging the hearts and minds of their employees, customers, and partners. I enjoy researching and speaking about leading-edge XM topics. I lead the Qualtrics XM Institute, which is the world's best job. We're igniting a global community of XM Professionals who are inspired and empowered to radically improve the human experience. To achieve this goal, my team focuses on thought leadership, training, and community building. My work is driven by a set of fundamental beliefs: 1) Everything starts and ends with human beings, so you need to understand how people think, feel, and behave; 2) XM is a discipline that needs to be woven throughout an organization's entire operating fabric; and 3) Building the XM discipline requires a combination of culture, competency, and technology.

4 thoughts on “Turn Hard Times Into Goat Stew”

  1. Bruce,

    Great post! I would agree the story is a bit extreme and in the same respect it is a powerful demonstration of your point.

    Innovation as a primary capability will be one of the keys that differentiates companies in their respective market places.

    It will be interesting to see how companies innovate around the social technologies of the internet going forward.

    Thanks for the post again and I hope you had a Merry Christmas.

    1. Mike: Happy New Year to you (I’m a bit behind in my commenting). I think the social technology provides one of many areas of possible innovations. But I worry that it has become so “trendy” that companies will overly-focus in that area. Thanks for the comment!

  2. Who did the goat belong to?
    Was Gulalai exercising a slavage right?
    I hope the return form meat sales was worth the risk of navigating the mine field or was he the one who laid out the mines? hence no or less risk.

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