Beneath the Surface of the Ground

In my last post I cited a Chinese proverb about creating long-term prosperity. Today I refer my readers to the thinking of a Native American culture–the Five Nations of the Iroquois.[1]

In American Indian Environments: Ecological Issues in Native American History, Chief Oren Lyons of the Onondaga Nation writes: “We are looking ahead, as is one of the first mandates given us as chiefs, to make sure and to make every decision that we make relate to the welfare and well-being of the seventh generation to come. …“[2]

Can there be any thinking more relevant than this to family businesses? Without upcoming generations, does the term “family business” even apply? And therefore, is thinking about the well-being of generations to come not every bit of a mandate for today’s incumbent leadership as it is for the chiefs of the Iroquois?

This is by no means an easy task. Today’s leaders are challenged by the intense pressure to produce short-term success; to please shareholders; to produce wealth now; to feed the spending frenzy of a voracious consumer society. 

Short-term thinking produces short-term results. Most contemporary family businesses do not last beyond their third generation. But there are family businesses alive and well today that have prospered for 100 years and more; whose very existence proves that paths to such longevity are open; can be found; can be learned.

Seventh-generation thinking is finding its way into our collective consciousness; changing our current worldview. Perhaps learning more about how this works will help business families to build a mindset, actions and behaviors based on their impact on the seventh generation to come: “even those whose faces are yet beneath the surface of the ground…”[3]

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_generation_sustainability

[2] An Iroquois Perspective. Pp. 173, 174 in American Indian Environments: Ecological Issues in Native American History. Vecsey C, Venables RW (Editors). Syracuse University Press, New York.

[3] “The Constitution of the Iroquois Nations: The Great Binding Law.”