Where will your next strawberry come from?

I heard a remarkable story the other day.

A man wanted to teach his two sons about responsibility – and ingenuity – so he planted a strawberry plant in his backyard. He asked them to nurture it and told them “whoever shows me a ripe strawberry first gets a reward.” The first son checked the plant twice a day, giving it water and feeding the soil. Some time later the second son called his father and brother together and triumphantly presented a ripe strawberry. The first son was furious and yelled: “That’s not possible, the plant doesn’t have ripe strawberries yet!” His brother explained that since the strawberries were growing so slowly, he bought one from the greengrocer in order to collect the reward.

The father was proud of both his sons’ efforts. He had only asked the boys to show him a ripe strawberry – not that they produce their own completely original strawberry ‘from scratch’. He explained the value of both hard work and creativity to his sons. This is a wonderful analogy for the many dichotomies and dilemmas faced in today’s fast-paced and furiously competitive technology-driven markets.

Of course it is satisfying to grow your own strawberries from a seed you have nurtured into a plant. In business you naturally make the most of your available internal resources to develop new products independently whenever possible. Meanwhile, however, a competitor may have hooked up with what was already available and entered the market before you. In the end you need both internal and external knowledge to estimate development times, evaluate competition strength and especially when to make the choice to start looking for external solutions.

What sparked the second son to come up with his innovative idea was competition. He wanted to win the reward and looked at the fastest way to the desired outcome. By thinking out-of-the-box he connected an external solution to his goal while his brother chose the slower and more secure option. Had they cooperated together, instead of competing, they could have come up with the best solution and shared the reward.

The moral: by seeking solutions in as wide a manner as possible, by taking risks, developing collaborative relationships and seeing opportunities externally, the reward can be obtained.