Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Expanding our horizons

We should set our sights on horizons we will never live to see. (Asian proverb: source unknown)

Two ideas in my recent experience have given me a new appreciation for longer term thinking (and in particular, my personal responsibility for the actions of others who will be impacted).

One emerged when Bernadette and I recently toured a family owned (and operated) balsamic vinegar farm in Modena, Italy. It had been in the family for generations. We toured the facility and learned how traditional artisanal balsamic vinegar is made; particularly that well aged variety over 25 years old. The taste of just a drop or two of the thick, syrupy older product produces a sensory experience that is exquisitely layered with deep and rich flavors. In truth, it has been infused with the experiences of multiple generations of the family and their lifelong work on the farm. I will never taste balsamic again without thinking about this particular family and their enthusiastic embrace of an artistic food dynasty. A few interesting observations resonated with me as follows:

1. It takes about 100 litres of liquid over the aging process, evaporation, and years to ultimately produce about a litre of final product.
2. Fruit starts in a larger barrel and as it ages, is moved into smaller barrels. The picture nearby indicates the evolution of balsamic through five barrels in a row that reflect a particular vintage year.
3. The fruits planted in one generation are actually cultivated in the next and harvested in generations beyond.

Obviously, in planning a business that, by its nature, is multigenerational in scope, the family is forced to think about who will succeed them to make decisions. As well, the current owners realize that they own the responsibility of shaping the character of their family and ultimately ensuring appropriate training for the job.

The second idea instance emerged through an excerpt from the book, Moral Intelligence 2.0 by Doug Lennick and Fred Kiel. It contained a reference to a State of the World Forum in which a presentation was made by a Polynesian tribal chief from Hawaii. In describing how his people thought about responsibility and accountability, the chief indicated that, in his culture, it was presumed that current leaders were accountable to the three generations that preceded them and responsible for the seven generations that followed them. Let that sink in for a moment. Not only were people expected to be responsible for their own actions, but in fact, had some obligation to include the rules and teachings of three prior generations in their current decision making, and the personal responsibility for identifying and teaching their successors in a way that influenced the next seven generations.

I suspect that most of us would have difficulty (and perhaps some sleepless nights) believing we were responsible for 11 generations. However, I do also believe that there is unusual value in considering how our personal actions and decisions reflect the views and moral teachings of those who preceded us. Additionally, even modest amounts of effort to enhance the capabilities of those who will succeed us will undoubtedly have a major impact on our communities both near and far.

As we think of recent couple of years of market whacks that reflect short term thinking, and perhaps myopic greed, I suggest we ask ourselves (and those close to us) questions arising from a longer term perspective. Most importantly, we should remind ourselves that we are more responsible for others than we might think.

Mark, the Advisor

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