Solid Like a Rock

There is a famous Bible story that compares the lives of two men.

 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” Matthew 7, 24-27.

I still remember my great-aunt telling me this story at bed-time. She managed to make this story come alive. “The sand-man was very proud and was very nicely dressed. In comparison, his neighbor, the rock-man was simple. Both started thinking about building a house at the same time. But, sand-man’s house was done much earlier. It has many floors, beautiful gardens and sand-man drove a very, very nice car. Rock-man, on the other hand, was slow. Rock-man was still building up his house and hammering around with his foundation, when sand-man already moved in with a big party. Rock-man’s house was a lot more Spartan.” It was just like the house my great-aunt lived in. “It costs a lot of money to build the right way”, she explained, “That’s why rock-man had not much money left over for gardens, and his house turned out to be smaller. Before the storm came, everybody thought sand-man was the smart one and rock-man was old-fashioned. But then – the storm came! Everybody saw how foolish Mr. Sand-man was: his house fell with a great crash!”

The lessons from this story – like many others from the Bible – are very modern. My favorite versions currently are either about mortgages or, as in this blog, about companies. “There were two companies …”. The outcome of the story remains the same. The rock-solid company survives, whereas the other company is sent into oblivion – it comes down with a great crash! Their fate was determined by one question and one question only: what was the company built on?

So, what is a solid company built on? Just like my great-aunt’s narrative, there are many ways to make this story modern. To me, the foundation of a company is its deep values as reflected by the actions of the company-the way it treats its people, the way it treats its customers, the way it plans, and the way it approaches important decisions. These values often remain hidden to a cursory look, but they are reflected deep down in everything the company does.

There are many bad companies who talk about values and there are many crooks on ethics boards, as we are currently learning from daily news. Only a good crisis can separate the true values from companies who are faking it.

A lot of time is spent in rock-companies thinking deeply about culture and whether decisions hurt or help their company. They will not fall into the trap of  a “Wunder”-deal, especially if the deal pushes them awfully close to ethical boundaries, which are, for rock-companies, way inside of the legal boundaries. Sand-companies are determined to get to their prize as the mouse walking up to the trap eying that great piece of cheese.

Sand-companies are good at P-R (public relations). In fact, they believe in their own P-R: “the best”, “the most successful”. They start spending their awards before they win them; they congratulate each other before the race, and they never finish races. Sand-companies are great at borrowing, fast and furious. There is nothing wrong with borrowing money – in fact, it is essential for the success of many rock-companies. But borrowing money for the wrong reason is deadly!

In contrast, rock-companies will not waiver from the values and principles that define them. They will look carefully at each decision. They will also listen to skeptics from within their company. If there is a real worry, that worry has to be addressed no matter who surfaces the issue, and no matter how annoying it seems to some people. Rock-companies appreciate hearing worries before the decision.

There are many companies that are suffering in the tough economic times, even many rock-companies. There are even some rock-companies that will not make it. But, for each rock-company that goes out of business, ten sand-companies will be wiped off the ground. And, we will be better off for it in the long run!

Are you working in a solid company? Are your decisions rooted in the firm foundation of a value system that makes the right decision for the right reasons? There are things that are more important than instantaneous success, because, only solid companies built on rock-solid values survive in the long run. Because companies that are not built on a foundation will “fall with a great crash!”

Comments (3)
  • Judy

    January 26, 2009

    This is probably where the “Three Little Pigs” story originated.
    Substance is hard to judge from the outside. How do we know a company has real substance and not just flash and dash?
    As a small-time investor, what do we need to look for when investing in a start-up, or even shares in a large publicly traded company? I have yet to figure it out.

  • Israel Vicars

    February 1, 2009

    “Rock-companies will not waiver from the values and principles that define them.”

    Thanks for this article, I appreciate the very practical take on this lesson. As I’ve prepared to start a company, I’ve begun to think more and more about the building of the organization.

    Any advice, maybe from starting the center or other ventures, when deciding on the value and principles to be a rock company?

Leave a Comment

* required