Like gardening, nurturing businesses takes a lot of patience

There is a wonderful Japanese word, “nemawashi,” whose rough translation is to “prepare the roots.” Although the word was borrowed from famously patient Japanese gardeners, every Japanese businessperson understands its meaning.

A gardener would use the term “nemawashi” to describe the infinite and time-consuming pains he or she might take in preparation for transplanting a small tree. The whole process might take several years — the time necessary to “prepare the roots” so that the little tree can stand the shock of being uprooted.

The same care and patience are necessary in many complex business tasks — opening a new market, educating customers about additional uses for your products, even training your most promising young employees.

Not everything important can be accomplished in a day, a month or even a year.

“Nemawashi” can be a valuable reminder that patience and care can accomplish things that sheer managerial drive cannot.

I’m not exactly a patient person. I’m more of the persuasion that says, “I want patience … AND I WANT IT RIGHT NOW.” In fact, I once went in to have my patience tested and found out I’m negative.

Like any entrepreneur who is starting a business, you want it to grow as fast as possible. You have big dreams and want to realize them quickly. It was no different when I was building my envelope manufacturing company. However, it’s important to avoid the “ready, fire, aim” process.

Jumping to hasty decisions is not good. A lack of patience can cloud judgment, diminish credibility and damage relationships. Impatience can make you look desperate.

And yet current culture has programmed us to expect immediate results.

I learned that in order to establish patience, you have to create realistic expectations. Things seldom happen overnight. Often you need to take a slow, methodical approach to allow good things time to develop. The objective is to keep moving forward and to acquire skills and knowledge as you progress.

Patience is a key element of success in the workplace, no matter what your role is. I understand the old adage that good things come to those who wait. That’s why patience often leads to happiness.

Remember the marshmallow test, which was created by psychologist Walter Mischel. It is one of the most famous psychological experiments ever conducted. The test lets young children decide between an immediate reward (one marshmallow), or if they delay gratification, a larger reward (multiple marshmallows). Studies showed that children who were patient were much more successful later in life.

The wonderful thing about patience is that it goes a long way, and yet the more we use it, the more we have.

Patience also allows you to gather all the facts and make better decisions after seeing the big picture. Patience enables you to reach your goals by being consistent and persistent if you are dedicated and determined.

Patient people don’t allow their emotions to overwhelm them. They are in control and accept challenges without becoming rattled. Patience is waiting without worrying.

But there’s another old saying that helps maintain a reasonable balance: “If you wait until it’s perfect, you’ll be waiting a long time.” Remain alert and know when it is time to make a decision and move forward.

Perhaps you are familiar with the lessons in patience one learns in growing bamboo. One of my favorite stories is about a Chinese farmer who decided to plant bamboo seeds. He dug holes, planted the seeds and then marked their locations. He faithfully watered those seeds every day. After a year, nothing had sprouted. He kept at it for another year, but still no sign of life.

Another year of watering and tending the marked locations, but no results. By then his neighbors were starting to question his devotion to the bare soil. Yet he persisted.

So, for a fourth year, he watered and watched. But not even one of those seeds showed any promise. He refused to give up. And for a fifth year, he tended those seeds as though they were his family.

One day, as he was watering his little plot, he saw a green sprout peeping through. It seemed to grow right before his eyes. It grew and grew, and within six weeks, those sprouts had reached 90 feet tall. His bamboo forest had come to fruition, all because his patience paid off.

Mackay’s moral: A person without patience is like a car without brakes.

Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or e-mail

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