What a 2000-Year-Old Parable Can Teach You About Entrepreneurship
On faith, planting seeds, and trees bearing fruit
If you want more confidence, start striving toward the life you want. Even if you fail, you’ll be proud of yourself. And if you’re committed, you’ll begin to succeed. You’ll eventually get so much momentum that it becomes your new normal to operate at optimal levels. — Benjamin P. Hardy
Taking the first step toward starting a business doesn’t require a lot of skills or talent.
Surprisingly, it doesn’t even require very much knowledge.
In the early 1920s, when Walter Elias Disney started pitching cartoons to local theaters, his skills were nowhere near refined and his knowledge was extremely limited. Skills, talent, and knowledge weren’t required for Disney to test the market.
The way to get started is to quit talking and start doing. — Walt Disney
Disney made a lot of mistakes, but he was willing to take courageous action when he had no guarantee of success. Because of his courage, he was able to bring the right people into his life to overcome what he lacked. Now, his company is a world leader in entertainment and has a net worth of nearly 130 billion dollars.
It’s hard to relate to someone like Walt Disney. The type of courage that he had when he was producing cartoons on borrowed equipment and living out of his Kansas City office is extremely rare.
Lucky for you and I, this type of courage can be developed and replicated by anyone.
A 2100-Year-Old Parable
I was a little kid the first time that I heard this 2100-year-old parable. Even though I rarely understood what we were reading, my family would regularly sit down to study out of the Bible and the Book of Mormon.
Usually, I zoned out. I couldn’t understand what was being read. I read so slowly that I felt like I was testing my sibling’s patience as I tried to read my verse one word at a time.
But this story stood out to me. It spoke about something that I could understand — a seed growing into a tree.
Even though the parable was over my head, I had an intuitive feeling it was important.
It teaches concepts that most adults struggle to understand.
Few people actively apply this in their lives, but those who do achieve significant breakthroughs that exponentially increase their momentum.
Redefining Faith In Practical Terms
According to the author of the parable, faith is something that you hope for even though you can’t guarantee the outcome.
Faith is not to have a perfect knowledge; therefore if ye have faith, ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true. — Alma: 32:21
Making a decision based on faith involves risk and requires a significant amount of courage.
Think back to the first time you tried something new.
It could be the first time you drove a car, lived away from home, asked someone on a date, started a new job, or even tried a cow tongue taco at that shady Latino restaurant downtown (the taco was a mistake. I don’t recommend it).
For the point of this argument, it doesn’t matter which “first” you choose.
The first time you did it, you were acting from the point of faith.
Sure, you hoped that something good would come, and you probably even had a friend telling you about the benefits you would experience. But you didn’t KNOW if things would work out. You just had to trust, take courage, and act.
Think about it.
My wife and I have three amazing kids, ages 1, 3, and 5. They are crazy, and they experience this type of faith EVERY SINGLE DAY. Every day, they try new things, sometimes crazy things — like jumping off of tables, chairs, or couches. Even when they fail, like when my 3-year-old electrocuted himself on the electrical box yesterday, they get up practically unphased and try again.
Kids are amazing.
They act on their faith every day, even when most of their efforts end in scrapes, bruises, and failure.
You need more of that type of faith.
You need to set goals and ambitions that are bigger than what you’ve accomplished in the past.
Most of all, you need to believe that those goals are possible.
Seeds and Start-Ups
Hope looks forward, faith knows it has received and acts accordingly — Florence Shinn
From here on out, I will compare your product or service to a seed that needs to be planted, nourished, and protected to thrive. Even though we’re applying this parable toward your business, these principles can apply to any significant, life-altering goal.
What do you believe is possible for you?
- Increased free-time?
- Increased financial freedom?
- Increased depth of relationships?
- Increased sense of purpose?
What are you willing to do because of that belief?
Will you push those desires away, or will you let those desires work on your heart?
Plant the Seed
If you had a 100% guarantee that your product or service would be successful, then what would hold you back from starting a business?
In the parable of the seed, there’s a precise way that you can transform Faith into Perfect Knowledge. Most entrepreneurs would pay millions to be able to know beforehand which products will thrive in the marketplace.
You might HOPE that your product or service will be successful, but how do you know?
You have to plant the seed and see if it germinates.
“if ye give place, that a seed may be planted… behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief… it will begin to swell… and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves — It must needs be that this is a good seed” — Alma 32:28
My friend Matt has an interesting process for this. He’s followed this approach to create several successful Kickstarter’s. He featured his first product on shark tank and ultimately turned it into a multimillion-dollar business.
I took him out to lunch a few years ago to ask him how he comes up will new product ideas.
Matt told me that he keeps a notebook on him and has a goal to come up with ten new ideas every day. This may seem extreme. He doesn’t pursue each design; 99% of the ideas end up in the trash! Matt knows that when it comes to product design, it’s better to come up with ten product ideas than to come up with one.
Once he gets a few ideas that he’s excited about, he pitches them to family and friends to gauge their reaction. If they respond positively, then he knows that he has a product worth pursuing (a seed worth planting).
Still, he hasn’t planted the seed. He’s only identified the seed that he wants to plant.
Planting the seed requires that you put the product in front of paying customers.
Don’t let this step freak you out. It’s surprisingly simple.
For Matt, it often involves creating a mock-up product and putting it on Craigslist, eBay, or a local Facebook yard sale.
Are real people willing to spend real money?
If yes: You know 100% that this product is worth pursuing.
If no: You know that it’s time to throw that seed away and try again.
“Therefore, if a seed groweth it is good, but if it groweth not, behold it is not good, therefore it is cast away.” — Alma 32:32
If Yes: What Comes Next?
Just because you know that the product is good doesn’t mean that it’s time to go all in.
From your test, you only KNOW one thing: that clients respond well to the product.
That was one risk that used to hold you back. Now that the risk is no longer an issue.
Congratulations, you can confidently make the following choice:
- You can neglect the seed — abandon the product and let that dream fizzle out.
- You can nourish the seed — Try to turn that idea into something bigger.
A few weeks after seeing Matt’s product on Facebook, I saw his project on Kickstarter. He knew that the seed was good, and decided to nourish it.
And behold, as the tree beginneth to grow, ye will say: let us nourish it with great care, that it may get root, that it may grow up, and bring forth fruit unto us. And now behold, if ye nourish it with much care it will get root, and grow up, and bring forth fruit. Alma 32:37
Here are a few critical gardening tips for nourishing your tree. Standard tips are the basic things that all businesses need to survive. Exponential tips are the things you need to make your business thrive.
- Sunlight, Water, and Nutrients: Sales and marketing are the essential things that your business needs to grow. If you want to succeed, you’ll need to spend a lot of time upfront learning to love sales.
- Protection from the elements: Developing processes and systems for your business will help provide stability needed to get you through the first stages of your business. Processes and systems protect you, your clients, and your employees.
- Proper gardening skills and techniques: Mentors, coaches, business books, podcasts. Whatever you do, you need advice from seasoned gardeners who have been down your path and can accelerate your progress.
- More gardeners: There are only so many seeds you can plant and take care of at once. Even with the best equipment, you have limits. By bringing on more gardeners, you can rapidly accelerate your growth — employees, collaborators, freelancers, etc. The sooner that you can bring on appropriate help, the faster you’ll succeed.
Responsibility for Failure
But if ye neglect the tree, and take no thought for its nourishment, behold it will not get any root; and when the heat of the sun cometh and scorcheth it, because it hath no root it withers away, and ye pluck it up and cast it out.
Now, this is not because the seed was not good, neither is it because the fruit thereof would not be desirable; but it is because your ground is barren, and ye will not nourish the tree, therefore ye cannot have the fruit thereof. — Alma 38-39
At this point, if your business idea fails, it’s because you neglected the tree.
There are a million reasons why you might have neglected the tree.
- It cost you too much money to nurture a tree that hadn’t brought forth fruit.
- Your marketing plan didn’t work out, and you weren’t able to put it in front of the right people.
- You didn’t have a mentor or support group to remind you of your long-term goals when things got tough.
- You waited too long to bring on the necessary people to help you grow your business.
Whatever the case, you need to accept the responsibility of your actions. Without taking responsibility for failure, you’ll have a high risk of repeating the same mistake over and over again.
By accepting responsibility, you’ll be able to see through the mediocrity of excuses and identify the exact steps you need to take next time to ensure success.
A Fruitful Tree
But if ye will… nourish the tree as it beginneth to grow, by your faith with great diligence, and with patience, looking forward to the fruit thereof, it shall take root; and behold it shall be a tree springing up.
And because of your diligence and your faith and your patience with the word in nourishing it, that it may take root in you, behold, by and by ye shall pluck the fruit thereof. Alma 32:41–42
Let’s wrap this up.
We all want a fruitful tree.
Heck, some people want a whole orchard.
As you follow the tips in this article with diligence, patience, and faith, your chances for success will increase drastically.