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!

About Bruce Temkin
I am a customer experience transformist, helping large organizations improve business results by changing how they deal with customers. As part of this focus, I examine strategy, marketing, interaction design, customer service, and leadership practices. I am also a fanatical student of business, so this blog provides an outlet for sharing insights from my ongoing educational journey. Simply put, I am passionate about spotting emerging best practices and helping companies master them. And, as many people know, I love to speak about these topics in almost any forum. My “title” is Managing Partner of the Temkin Group, a customer experience research and consulting firm that helps organizations become more customer-centric. Our goal is simple: accelerate the path to delighting customers. I am also the co-founder and chair of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA.org), a non-profit organization dedicated to the success of CX professionals.

4 Responses to Turn Hard Times Into Goat Stew

  1. Mike Brewer says:

    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.

    • Bruce Temkin says:

      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. Jhon Kabrit says:

    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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