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019 – Three feet away from the gold seam
Filed in Anecdotes, Business storytelling, Podcast
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It takes a lot of hard work and persistence to do something great. Naturally, if the goal is a big one it’s going to be harder to achieve. You just don’t want to give up and find out that you were close to achieving it. This week, Mark tells a story about the Colorado gold rush and how a decision to give up came at a huge cost.
It’s a great story if you’re currently working towards a goal that your team is starting to lose faith in.
Mark came across this story in Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. We also discuss how history offers many great lessons for the present, and even how we used some to create knowledge management strategies. You can find the article we mention here.
For your story bank
Tags: experts, hard-work, mining, persistence
Darcy in Williamsburg, Maryland during the gold rush.
His uncle went to the gold rush. Hard worker, with pick and shovel dug for weeks.
Found more and more gold, figured he was on a rich seam of gold.
Covered up his work, went back to Maryland.
Told relatives, close friends about his suspicions and raised lots of money to buy equipment and ship it out to Colorado.
They set it up. Start mining. Filled a cart with gold in the first few weeks.
It wasn’t enough to pay for all the equipment.
They figured with more hard work, they would eventually pay off debt to friends and family and make huge profits.
The gold dried up. They kept digging. Spent more money on equipment. Still no gold.
Kept digging. Eventually gave up.
Sold equipment to a junk dealer.
Took the train home.
The junk dealer thought he’d give it a go, but got expert help from a mining engineer.
Mining engineer did an assessment of the lease. He said they failed because they didn’t understand fold lines and gold seams.
He said gold is less than 3 feet from where they were digging.
Moved the machine over, started up machines. Struck one of the richest seams of gold in the Colorado gold rush and made millions.
This is Anecdotally Speaking—the podcast to help you build your business story repertoire. Hi, I’m Shawn Callahan.
And I’m Mark Schenk.
Well we’ve got an interesting podcast for you today; we are going to delve into a little bit of history. I guess it’s a great source of stories; there are so many things written, great books, great documentaries, all sorts of things that you can draw from.
And movies of course.
And movies yeah absolutely. For a long time, we’ve been drawing things from historical accounts to feed into some of our work. I remember in those earlier days when we were doing a lot of work around knowledge management and we wrote a paper that sort of took some ideas from a book that I read called Undaunted Courage. It was about Lewis and Clarke’s exploration of the west in the U.S.
And the thing that I really noticed is that they did the preparation for their journey; they sort of played it out three times. So, there was the first imaginary journey that they went through. It was Jefferson sitting down there with Lewis and Clarke; you know sort of planning out what the journey would be so they had that in their mind. The second one was when they gathered everyone at St Lewis to get ready for the journey and they were practising.
Like building the skills they needed to survive the long trek.
You know rafting, climbing mountains.
All of the above you know and so again it was building up exactly what this journey was going to be like. And then of course the actual journey in many ways wasn’t like what they were preparing for but all that preparation helped them to adapt.
And so, we were using the metaphor of the three journeys from Lewis and Clarke as a way of developing knowledge strategies.
That’s the one, that’s the connection exactly. I guess we were thinking just to have a very linear strategy wasn’t going to help a lot of organisations. You needed an approach which helped the leaders go through that imaginary process, for more employees to go through the practice process. And then have tools and techniques in place so you could learn from the journey as you are actually going through it.
That’s right; I remember we adopted that metaphor of the three journeys because our approach to strategy was based on our understanding of complexity. A lot of thinking around strategy is the metaphor of building a railway. And you plan out where the tracks are going to go and you design where the stations will be and the access points to the station and you figure out exactly how long it’s going to take to get from station A to station B. And people build strategy with that as the metaphor and it’s going to fail every time.
The world just doesn’t work that way, right.
Yeah that’s right. We used that because we were trying to overcome the mindset challenge that people had about designing and executing strategy from a linear to one that’s based on complexity.
So, if you ever want to seek out that paper and read it, it was written by myself and David Drake. David is another fabulous practitioner in the area of narrative coaching. So, we wrote that a number of years ago. So, do a search on Google and you’ll probably find it.
Now I guess that’s a good lead in to this story because the story we are going to share today again is a historical story. It’s actually sourced from quite a well-known book by Napoleon Hill called Think and Grow Rich, first published in 1937 and reprinted many times since.
This story takes place during the Colorado Gold Rush. The story is about a guy called Darcy who lived in Williamsburg in Maryland. And Darcy’s uncle went off to the Colorado gold rush and staked his claim. His uncle was a really hard worker, with pick and shovel he toiled for weeks and weeks and weeks and eventually he started to find a bit of gold.
He dug a bit more and found that there was quite a bit of gold so he figured that he was on a very rich seam of gold. So, he carefully covered up what he’d done and he trekked back to Williamsburg in Maryland and he told a few relatives and very close friends that he’d found the big one. And on the basis of his assurances they raised a significant amount of money.
They bought a bunch of mining equipment and shipped it out to Colorado and set it up and they started drilling and mining and they filled a cart, you know one of those iron ore things, with gold. So, in the first few weeks they found an enormous amount of gold and they’d hit it big but there was nowhere enough to pay off the money they’d borrowed but they realised with a lot of hard work they would soon pay off their debts then huge profits would follow.
But then after a few weeks the gold completely dried up. There was no more gold coming out of that mine at all but they were convinced there was gold still there so they kept digging, they kept mining, they kept drilling. They kept going and they kept pouring more and more money in to keep the mine going and to continue to pay of the equipment they’d bought.
And they probably got to the stage where they probably should have given up but they did not give up. They couldn’t give up right, because they’d gone to their friends and relatives to raise the money and they had to go back and face these people so they kept going. They were hard workers and they kept digging and they kept drilling until eventually they just had to admit defeat. There was no more gold.
Imagine the heart-wrenching decision they had to make so they were able to sell a whole bunch of the equipment to an old junk dealer and they got back on the train, tails between their legs and went back to Williamsburg.
Now the junk dealer was actually very smart and he kind of went, what if I get some expert help? So, he went and got a mining engineer and asked the mining engineer to do an assessment of the lease. The mining engineer went;
‘These guys didn’t fail because of their lack of hard work or anything; they failed because they just didn’t understand fault lines and how gold seams operate. The gold will be less than three feet from where they are currently digging’.
And so, the junk guy starts up the machinery, just changed the direction a little bit, dug for three feet and struck one of the richest seams of the Colorado gold rush.
Oh my god.
The lesson from Napoleon Hill’s book is that you shouldn’t give up.
That’s almost like a combination of you shouldn’t give up but you should also maybe get some help along the way.
Yeah, think a little broader than just brute force and perseverance.
What was going through my head as you were telling the story was I kept on thinking; yeah they are digging themselves a hole. What do they say about digging yourself a hole?
Ah Confucius says, many hole, should stop digging.
That’s great. I like that story. You sort of see it over and over again in terms of people who are not realising that, okay maybe you do have to change direction here. I see this particularly in government. I guess the rewards mechanism there in government; someone told me once that in private enterprise if you do ten things and you get one thing wrong your score is nine, in government if you do ten things and you do one thing wrong your score is minus one
Yeah I was the one who told you that.
Right. There you go and so that’s the thing you just keep going because you don’t want to have a minus one against you, you want to just keep going. Whereas I don’t know, almost like that courage to say okay this is not working, let’s change tact. What do they call it in the Silicon Valley?
You have a pivot.
A pivot, that’s it.
I don’t particularly like that phrase.
But they needed to pivot. So why does this story work? What are the things that jump out for us and set this story up as something that works for us?
From the perspective of me telling the story I was kind of really conscious of the embarrassment that they were trying to avoid, the fact that their reputation was on the line. That was one of the things that was playing out in my mind.
And I think it comes across too because that’s one of the reasons. That’s one of the driving forces so you understand where these guys are coming from and what their motivation is, you don’t want to upset the family back home because you’ve borrowed so much money of them. I guess the other thing is that sense of frustration. You could sort of feel it, if they could only just work harder, right?
Oh yes in fact like Animal Farm, George Orwell; Boxer the draught horse, the answer was work harder.
Work harder, so I think that’s where they were coming from. You know I like the fact, the person who unlocked the value was the junk dealer. Because again it’s a bit unexpected, you don’t think of junk guys like that and the fact that he was an opportunist. He just saw it there and went ‘oh well I’ll get my buddy who knows a little bit about the geology of this area to give me some pointers’.
Another reason why I think that story works well is because of the whole idea of demonstrating that you are like the audience. Everyone in the audience has probably had that experience (certainly we have in running this business for nearly fourteen years) of times where you think should I give up or other times you think did I give up too early.
So, when is the right time to actually throw the towel in? So that probably adds to the connection with the audience.
There’s a resonance there.
As Robert G.L. Dennie says, ‘we are most influenced by people who are like us’ and that story sort of demonstrates a typical human experience that many of us would have had.
Yeah, definitely. Is there anything we would do to make that story even better do you think, Mark?
Well one way to make that story even better would be to practise it more.
Yeah, I think maybe having more of a character development of the actual guys who are digging; you know I’d like to know a little bit more about them apart from their name. I think that could add to the story. Off course you don’t want to overload these stories, especially when you are telling them in a business context. It’s not like you’re Malcolm Gadwall and you’ve got a large book that you can fill to tell all the lovely character details.
You’ve not got three or four thousand words to tell the story.
That’s it, actually so you don’t have that luxury, unfortunately. But a little bit more on the character development would be good. Apart from that it’s a nice compact story.
So, what do you think, how would this story be used in a business context?
Well I think if you are a leader and you really do believe you’re not that far but you see the team is flagging. That would be a story to say, ‘hey guys we don’t want to give up but maybe we want to look in different directions at this point. Can we get more innovative here? Can we bring some insight?’
I think it’s this combination; it’s not just a matter of not giving up because you cannot give up and just dig a deeper hole. I think for me the story there is a combination of not giving up but having some smarts.
Okay, but I could also see you could use that story to make those two points separately. So, there’s a point about let’s not give up and there you emphasise how hard they worked and how they gave up and it’s not so much about they didn’t understand fault lines or anything, they just stopped before they hit the vein.
So, folks we’re going to keep going with this project because we’re so close to getting it right we’re just going to keep going. The other one was it might be where you want to bring new ideas; maybe bring some consultancy in or to get some different ways of thinking into your project. And you tell the story and emphasise here the fact that the junk guy had the foresight to engage somebody with a completely different perspective and some expertise that was relevant to the problem.
Yes, that’s a good idea. Absolutely and I think it has different ways you can actually use it really. The other way of perhaps using that story is to throw the story out and actually get people in the audience to bring their experiences of times where they’ve given up too early or they’ve not given up, just to draw out that sense of hey this is something we all do. And I think that would get an enormous amount of engagement.
I think often we think of storytelling as the leader standing in front of a group and telling this wonderful story and everyone goes, ‘Oh that’s such a good story; I’m going to change my behaviour now’. Quite frankly we know that doesn’t work. If you do something that gets everyone talking; I think this is a story that could do that.
Absolutely and so another business application; I’m just going to paraphrase what you just said there is where you are in a situation where ‘Yep folks we are working hard, sure we give up but before we give up let’s think what are the things we could do? What can we do to try to make sure that we haven’t forgotten about the fault lines? So, let’s have a conversation. What can we do to make sure that we‘ve covered every angle; we’ve tried every possibility before we decide to pack this in?’
Yeah, I think there’s some good ways of using it.
Starting a conversation, I like it.
Right, well what do you reckon Mark, given the applicability of it, the likelihood of retelling it, the impact of the story, how would you give this as a rating?
I’m going to go with a seven and there are a number of reasons for that. One of them is some of the details are hard to remember; you know Williamsburg, Maryland, Colorado. So, I made a couple of notes before I told that story so it might be difficult to tell again off the cuff but certainly if you practised it you could use and it would start to stick. I think it’s a very powerful story in particular applications but probably not one that has a huge range of application.
But you know I could imagine it’s the sort of story that you’d have up your sleeve. And in a conversation it would just pop to mind. And after a while (this is one of the beauties of storytelling) a group of people would know that story and then you would only have to say, three foot from gold, and everyone would get it.
They’d have the whole understanding, so you’ve given this shortcut to quite a complex and nuanced idea. Those sorts of stories with a nice little tag line like that I think have a lot of power. So, I would give it a seven as well and for similar reasons but I think it has a lot of possibilities.
Well that’s good, that’s another great story. It’s interesting here you probably notice a bit of a trend. We’re not throwing out stories which are just to lay down the audience and everyone is just amazed and bowled over. A lot of the storytelling is telling multiple stories, right, and reinforcing points and giving examples. And they don’t have to be big ones but it’s those stories that people will remember and they’ll be the thing that will inspire little actions along the way. You can never tell what people will be inspired by as well, so keep that in mind.
Yes, so thanks for listening to Anecdotally Speaking and tune in next week for another episode of how to put stories to work.
About Anecdote International
Anecdote International is a global training and consulting company, specialising in utilising storytelling to bring humanity back to the workforce. Anecdote is now unique in having a global network of over 60 partners in 28 countries, with their learning programs translated into 11 languages, and customers who incorporate these programs into their leadership and sales enablement activities.
Lovely podcasts Mark!! Love, love it… Heard 15 – 20 of these and they are so inspiring!
Just a suggestion – You should probably do these as videos too . Will have a higher impact with visual learners too:) Also, will be great to see you both have a conversation!
The old “under the lamppost” theme, which is always good with business groups. We are all taught to stress focus, persistence but….if you are climbing the ladder against the wrong wall you are not going to get anywhere except up the wrong wall.
I think this is good for crowds that are looking to break habits, bring on creative and innovative thinking.
Cheers and thanks.
G’day Shawn and Mark and team
I give this story a 10.
Now, don’t tell anybody, but this is the perfect story for a consultant when in the final stages of a discussion with a prospect. Though it’s a high-rolling story … bear with me.
I see the consultant using it to help the prospect (yes … help the prospect) to be certain or not certain that they had tried everything before deciding that they needed the expert … needed the consultant.
So if the prospect is CERTAIN … then the opportunity has been qualified … it’s real … so it’s up to the consultant to work up a proposal. Obviously it’s not won, but the prospect now knows that the consultant may have the answer
But if the prospect is NOT CERTAIN … then it’s not qualified … it’s not a real opportunity. And I suggest that the consultant helps the prospect to frame what needs to be done to remove the uncertainty. Preferably, that’s something which needs to be done without external help … such as another expert .. another consultant! So it’s likely to be an internal approach. My consultant should now withdraw and regularly maintain contract to find out how things are going. And hopefully the uncertainty will be removed.
Cheers – John
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