Strategic Patience Matters: Lessons About Mindful Growth

No one understands the power of time and patience better than the Chinese Bamboo Farmer, who plants his seeds and then tends to them carefully for three to five years before anything happens above the ground.
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"The strongest of all warriors are these two: Time, and Patience."
- Leo Tolstoy

No one understands the power of time and patience better than the Chinese Bamboo farmer, who plants his seeds and then tends to them carefully for three to five years before anything happens above the ground.

The bamboo plants are busy the entire time of course, developing a tree from the top down underground and forming root systems that can handle the massive, lasting growth that occurs once the waiting period is over. These trees can grow 35 inches in a single day, shooting up to a height of 90 feet in one growing season. With proper care and maintenance, a bamboo plantation will yield productive harvests for up to 50 years.

The seemingly rapid success of the game Angry Birds actually happened as a result of 8 years of nonstop hard work and meticulous research, in which 52 attempts at creating the right game had failed. The founders refused to compromise, insisting that their game be the perfect match for the new, worldwide distribution model made possible by the iPhone App Store.

In January of 2011, Angry Birds sold 150,000 copies in one week. Three months later, 75 million people were spending 200 million minutes, or 16 years an hour, each day playing this simple game on their phones, smart pads and computers.

"Everything was aimed at eliminating luck. You could make a game according to your own tunnel vision and then, fingers crossed, if you get lucky, people will pick it up. But we didn't want to depend on luck." - Ville Heijari, Former SVP of Marketing for Rovio Entertainment Ltd.

Almost all overnight successes are actually the result of years of careful planning and hard work. Like the Chinese Bamboo farmer, we have to keep tending to our growth and development while we wait for success. Unlike the Chinese Bamboo farmer though, we don't have the luxury of following traditions that have worked for centuries with predictable results, and we have become accustomed to extremely rapid gratification.

In 2006, Google discovered the four-second rule. Most users stopped waiting for a site after four seconds, moving on to seek their products or information from another, faster source. Less than 7 years later, the four-second rule morphed into the 250-millisecond rule. To give you perspective, it takes about 400 milliseconds for you to blink your eye. This means that most of us move on if information isn't available to us in less time than it takes us to blink.

A computer professor at Amherst found that people start to lose patience if they have to wait more than 2 seconds for a movie to download. Professor Sitarman, who spent years developing this study, worries that people will soon be too impatient to conduct studies on impatience.

Jennifer Roberts, an art history professor at Harvard, describes the kind of patience that is required for deep understanding and long-term success, as strategic patience.

She has her students choose one painting to study during the semester, and she requires them to go to a museum and observe the painting for at least three hours. In her talk at Harvard, she describes the process of deep observation of a work of art, and the invaluable details that she discovers after an hour of patient observation.

"Just because you have looked at something, doesn't mean you have seen it. Just because it is available to your vision, doesn't mean it has permeated your consciousness. Access does not mean learning. What turns access into learning is time and strategic patience." - Jennifer Roberts, Professor, Harvard University

The bamboo farmer knows that time and strategic patience are formative. He knows that while he can't see the results, his efforts will eventually pay off ten fold. While he tends to his unseen bamboo plants for years, he also prepares for the management of a harvest that lasts for decades.

We have to continually learn to stay on top of the changes in our field. We might fail many times before we find the right path to our dreams. But one thing is guaranteed; if you plant healthy seeds and tend to them carefully, you will reap a bountiful harvest. And once that growing season starts, you'll need to be ready to handle it.

While you are waiting for your success, you can prepare for your success. It is helpful to think of yourself as practicing active, rather than passive, waiting.

If you stumble upon success without planning for it, you'll have little chance of maintaining continual growth and development. You need time to observe patterns and notice opportunities or problems that might not be apparent with a cursory glance.

Rovio was unable to sustain their rapid growth. The company made the critical mistake of investing too heavily in the by-products of their lucrative game, spending precious resources on everything from stuffed animals to angry bird-themed amusement parks. Eventually Rovio had to downsize and regroup, focusing their efforts on activities that might ensure long-term success.

Are you ready? Have you prepared yourself and your staff for the unexpected twists and turns in the life of a business? Have you studied up on how to handle success? Do you understand how to manage the money, business and relationships in your life? Are you strong enough to handle the work required to maintain and enjoy a 50-year long harvest?

It all boils down to the simple rules you learned as a child. Stop, look, listen and learn before you cross and you'll be sure to achieve, and more importantly, maintain your success in business and in life.

"The virtue of patience was originally associated with forbearance or sufferance. It was about conforming oneself to the need to wait for things. But now that, generally, one need not wait for things, patience becomes an active and positive cognitive state. Patience no longer connotes disempowerment--perhaps now patience is power." - Jennifer Roberts, Professor, Harvard University