Originally printed in the March 2022 issue of Produce Business.
The path to success in business is, to quote Churchill in a different context, “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma,” for the definition of success itself is unclear. Is this just a matter of whomever makes the most money wins? Or is there value in gaining the respect of one’s peers and the world at large? What about of doing things, acknowledged or not, that advance the industry and make the world a better place?
In the preface to A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens wrote this as explanation for his work: “I have endeavored in this ghostly little book to raise the ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my readers out of humor with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it.”
What is this “Idea”? What does it mean? There are specific things that many have pointed to as “lessons” of Dickens’ book. A ValueWalk Business Guide lists these five points:
- Learn from the mistakes of others. Ebenezer Scrooge was given an invaluable gift – a second chance. He was able to take an objective look at his own life and therefore was able to see what he was doing wrong.
- Value your team members. Scrooge had a faithful employee in Bob Cratchit, but he treated him with disrespect. Scrooge rarely gave the man a day off and even begrudged him burning enough coal to keep warm while he worked.
- Give back to the community. When he is visited by two gentlemen collecting for the poor, Scrooge asks, “Are there no prisons?” and “Are there no workhouses?”
- Plan for the future. When the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come visits Scrooge, he takes him to a forlorn, unkempt grave site. When Scrooge sees his own name written there on the gravestone, he begs the spirit to give him another chance.
- It is never too late to change. “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year,” Scrooge vows near end of the story. “I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!”
Bob Welch at Fox News points to these five things:
- Learning begins with listening. Initially, Scrooge wants nothing to do with the spirits. But once he realizes they have his best interest at heart, he willingly lets them lead.
- Bitterness will poison you. Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, is a wise man. It is Fred who points out that “the consequences of (Scrooge’s) taking a dislike to us, and not merry with us, is, I think, that he loses some pleasant moments … he loses pleasant companions.”
- There’s joy in starting over. Scrooge gets a bad rap. Too much attention is paid to his mean-spiritedness and not enough to the all-new Ebenezer. We see the sullen, bitter, biting Scrooge, but not the laughing, giving, joyful Scrooge.
There is a reminder that we go to work every day but not solely for that day.
- We must be present to win. On Christmas morn, one of the first things Scrooge does after realizing he’s been given a second chance at life is to fling open his window.
- We need to live with the end in mind. “Oh, tell me I may sponge away the writing on that stone,” says Scrooge when the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come shows him the headstone with Ebenezer’s name on it.
Of course, you have to aim to make money in business, yet, even that — the investment boom, venture capital, the way of the markets, etc. — has come to allow a long period of time to pass before that is necessarily the case. It was more than 20 years in business before Amazon, for example, began to really make any money.
In produce, we are used to trading, and that is an important tool to realize the true value of our business. Yet, many things require long terms to develop. In today’s produce industry, you think about Bruce Taylor and the development of the fresh-cut industry; David Marguleas and Miles Reiter and the development of varietal differentiation; Stewart and Linda Resnick and brilliant branding; the Mastronardi family and commercial greenhouse-grown produce. The D’Arrigo family and broccoli. There are, of course, many others who have found success in their area of expertise.
The success of A Christmas Carol is probably explained by the hopefulness that arises out of a story of personal redemption. It holds out the promise that an individual can transform himself. Can a person, even as an adult, see the world anew?
In business, one has the extraordinary opportunity to start fresh. In the redemption of Scrooge, we see the hope that each of us… that all of us, might also be redeemed. There is a reminder that we go to work every day but not solely for that day.