Business Is More Than Just Tilting Windmills

don-quixoteMention the book Don Quixote to someone and you may get a variety of responses. Three replies that I often hear are:

  • “Man of La Mancha”
  • “Peter O’Toole”
  • “Windmills”

Next, ask the person if they have actually read the book by Michael Cervantes and wait for their reaction.  Here are some of the responses I have run into:

  • “No”
  • “It’s awfully long”
  • “There’s a book? I thought it was just a movie”

I will admit that the full 1,000 page novel is downright daunting and in the fairness of full disclosure, I have not read it in its entirety myself.  I started last year and am working my way through (I am on page 210, if you must know).   You may ask, why am I reading this? Isn’t it really old?  Couldn’t you just watch the movie?

To answer these questions (and to get to the point of this article), I start off by saying that I read a lot.  And I do mean a LOT.  I go through perhaps 50 to 100 books a year, with a wide range from fiction, to business books, to ‘how to’ manuals on gardening and fixing my kitchen sink.  Last year, I found a book by Susan Wise Bauer called The Well Educated Mind.  Her book is essentially a life long training program to help you in reading the Classics – fiction, autobiography, history, drama, and poetry.  From Shakespeare to Charles Dickens, the idea is to continue to expand your mind by reading a little bit every day from books that have defined so much of what are history and our culture are.

And so, I decided to try this out.  And here I am with Don Quixote.  Almost 6 months and only 200 pages.  Meanwhile,I have read all 2,000 pages of the Stephanie Meyers Twilight series and numerous other books in the past 20 or 30 weeks.

So, why haven’t I finished Don Quixote?  After all, I only have 8oo more pages to go.  Wow.  That statement alone makes it seem like ‘The Impossible Dream.’

I have tried and failed several times to read Moby Dick and I have vowed to not let this same thing happen to me with Don Quixote.  I enjoy the humor in it.  Quite frankly, I never thought that I would find 400 year old writing so funny.  And yet it is.

Perhaps most importantly is that I recognize that this book is the foundation of modern literature.  Often quoted as the greatest Book of all Time (Scriptures of all religions excluded), Don Quixote is as necessary to a background in literature as Customers are to a business today.

Which brings me to my point.  All too often today, leaders in many businesses seem to be like our hero of the book, the elderly and bored gentleman Alonso Quixano, who sets off for an adventure with no idea of what he is doing, nor where he is going.  He has a long suffering neighbor (Sancho Panza) who accompanies him on his travels under the assumption that he will be given a large reward in return for his service.

For quite some time, we have seen businesses failing all around us.  Many were roaming endlessly along the pathway of borrowed money and unclear objectives.  Equally sad now are the creditors and the employees who, like Sancho Panza, kept going along the path and hoping for the reward of an island on which to retire at the end.  (And who doesn’t want an island all to themselves?)

As I read Don Quixote, I find the comparisons to today’s business quite astounding. All too often, we see business tilting at windmills and wandering aimlessly along the path of life.  And unfortunately, getting hurled to the ground during their ‘battle’, the pieces to be picked up by us.

If you have not read the book, I encourage you to give it a try.  On the other hand, if your business is fighting against imaginary dragons, you may want to try another path…the ground hurts.

Thanks for reading,

Brandon

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