The One Choice That Will Define Your Business Forever

After more than 30 years of research and work with over 1,300 CEOs and their companies, I discovered that there is one single choice, like no other, that alters the face of a business forever.

Very few people are aware that this choice exists and even fewer make it consciously. Yet, the course of a leader’s business is inextricably set to reap the rewards and/or challenges based on this choice.

Consider this first. Two old friends, both business owners, sit down at a local coffee shop to talk about their businesses. One is a Beekeeper who oversees honey hives placed at the perimeter of a cherry orchard outside of town. The other is a Watchmaker who makes and repairs fine watches and has a shop just north of the town square. Both owners are ready to retire and have put their businesses up for sale.

If you had to buy one of the businesses, given that all things regarding customer base, revenue and profit are equal, which one would you chose?

Would You Buy a Business of Precision and Control?

The watchmaker engineers her company’s growth with control and precision. Every piece from one of her precision manufactured watches is delicately machined to within 100th of an inch. The watchmaker controls every detail of the assembly of her precision watches and engineers the running of her business in a similar manner.


Both the handmade watch and the handmade watch business are dependable precision machines able to deliver results based on the predetermined set of conditions reflected in their design. If the watch were to be accidentally dropped on a concrete floor it would likely break into numerous pieces and stop working. That is, until someone or some outside force came along to repair it. What would happen to the watch business if it were to break in some fashion?

By its nature, the watch business will deliver results given that the underlying conditions do not change. Unfortunately, it does not adapt well to conditions foreign to its design. Its nature will resist any portion of the business working independently or in a team. It will rarely think independently to innovate new ways of meeting the ever-changing challenges of its environment.


Would You Buy a Business of Constant Change and Chaos?

The beekeeper operates in a world of constant change and chaos. He facilitates rather than controls the health of 125,000 bees living and working out of 55 white 3-foot-high wooden hives. The beekeeper can only foster an environment that supports the bees to produce honey. He cannot guarantee an outcome.

Upon closer inspection, the apparent mass of chaos swirling in and around the hives reveals the fact that every bee is an independent agent relentlessly pursuing its own mission, within the natural order of the hive. Each bee supports the daily business of making honey and protecting the health of the hive.

The hive is an intelligent, self organizing, adaptive organism. It is able to innovate based on the challenges encountered during the natural course of events. If the hive fell and shattered on the ground, the residential group of bees would relocate and start anew in the business of making honey.

The Difference

Imagine encountering a company with low morale, low profits, lack of staff engagement, high turnover and rampant gossip. Who would likely be running it, a Watchmaker or a Beekeeper?

If you guessed Watchmaker, research proves in nine out of ten cases you would be right. Why?

Watchmakers see their business as a machine to control.

The overarching purpose of watchmaker management is to avoid chaos at all cost and firmly control the enterprise and everything in it. Rarely is the company’s greatest asset, its people, accessed fully to the benefit of the enterprise.

Beekeepers see their business as a living thing to guide

Beekeepers have learned to facilitate their company’s performance rather than to control it. They understand and work with complexity and intermittent chaos. They are also more likely to allow for a little messiness in an effort to let the intelligence of the team or ‘hive’ to find the solutions instead of themselves.

The Choice

Considering that most CEOs are a blend of both the Watchmaker and the Beekeeper, the choice to be “one more than the other” still clearly defines the viability and performance of an enterprise.

We all have a choice: engineer our company’s growth or facilitate it. So, what’s it going to be, Watchmaker or Beekeeper?