Monday, April 13, 2009

The Shoemaker - an allegory

So there he was, John the shoemaker, left to cry in an empty shop. Things had gone so well, how could it come to this?
John started shop as a shoemaker in the town of Abc. He worked hard to establish his business and became well known in Abc. People came from miles around to first get their shoes repaired and then to buy new ones. John was intent on pleasing his clientele: he ensured the services and products he offered met their wants and needs; and they kept coming.
As his business kept growing, John could no longer meet the demand and so hired apprentices to help. With the added production capacity, John was able to expand the number of models he offered. He made shoes for young and old, rich and poor; models for the winter, for the summer and anything in between. People just kept pouring in.
But then, things started to slow down. At first John wasn't sure why but he finally realized that his shoes were so well made that they rarely needed to be replaced. As this was affecting his business, John decided to reduce the quality of the materials and workmanship. This went unnoticed with the clients as the shoes looked just as good. John also worked with a well known fashion designer to come up with new models so that people would buy new shoes just to follow the trend. He single handedly created the "big shoe" fashion, always creating bigger and heavier shoes. But, as big shoes were more expensive, John allowed his customers to use monthly installments to pay for their purchases. At first he only did this for his best clients but, as time went by, he allowed anyone to buy their shoes that way: at least it kept the business humming.
All this time, John was making loads of money. He built himself the biggest house in Abc and his own shoes were so big he had to hire two menservants to help him walk around.
Although he was rich, John was not a very good citizen of Abc. People said that he had all is money carted away to the town of Cde, a fiscal paradise, to avoid paying tax. Also, the waste caused by his big shoes was piling up in the landfill but when city councilors confronted him with that fact, asking him to contribute to better waste management, John threaten to close shop.
Then, one day, a strange disease affecting the cow population in the county caused the leather to become thinner and weaker. Instead of adapting his models, John continued to make big shoes even though they would now often fall apart after only a few walks. Because of the quality issues and the fact that big shoes were no longer "in", less people were buying shoes from John. He tried all kinds of marketing strategies but his shoe store just kept loosing money.
It came to a point where John had no choice so, putting on his biggest pair of big shoes, he went to the city council to plea for help. He explained that he was a victim of the bad weather (heavy rains made it difficult to walk around with big shoes), that cheap imports were taking away his business, that the cow disease was certainly caused by foreign terrorists , etc. He argued that as one of the biggest employer in Abc, the town had to help him through these tough times.
While John was wiping away his tears, the mayor said to him: "John, you have done everything you could to avoid contributing to the development of Abc and now you are asking its residents to help you. I am faced with a huge dilemma: on the one hand I would love to see you suffer through this but, on the other, I do not want to see all the townsmen and townswomen you employ loose their jobs. I therefore ask the city council for its advise on the matter." The city councillor responsible for the landfill stood up and said: "I believe that the best way to resolve this is to have John personally take care of the mountains of big shoes in the landfill, go door to door in Abc to receive a good kick in the butt from everyone suckered into buying big shoes and find out what townspeople really want in a shoe and, finally, share any future profits with the community. Only if John agrees to this, should we consider lending him Abc's money." John, who's ego was as big as his shoes, rejected the offer. He tried to keep running his business for a while but, finally, had to declare bankruptcy.

The moral of this story is that it is easier to share abundance than famine. So, instead of buying cashews just for yourself, buy peanuts for everyone!

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