What Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Aesop’s The Fox And The Grapes Fable

What Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Aesop’s The Fox And The Grapes Fable

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An old tale with a new take

What Aesop’s The Fox and the Grapes can teach us about strategic growth in business.


The Fox and the Grapes

A famished fox saw some clusters of ripe black grapes hanging from a trellised vine. She resorted to all her tricks to get at them, but wearied herself in vain, for she could not reach them. At last she turned away, hiding her disappointment and saying: “The grapes are sour, and not ripe as I thought.”

The lesson

People who speak disparagingly of things that they cannot attain would do well to apply this story to themselves.

Successful entrepreneurs don’t complain, they find solutions.


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Putting key lessons into practice

Not every opportunity is suitable for every entrepreneur, no matter how famished they might be for new ideas — it’s sometimes better not to act on impulse and wait for more strategic positioning before chasing a new opportunity.

It doesn’t mean giving up, it means learning to look at a problem from different perspectives.

Hastiness and impatience lead to loss of clarity when making strategic decisions, and increase the risk of making decisions based on false assumptions. Patience, flexibility, methodology and good timing are important strategic elements of success in an entrepreneur’s toolbox; especially as problems become more complex and often involve many different areas and levels of professional knowledge and experience — passion isn’t everything.

Just because she wants the grapes doesn’t mean it’s in the old fox’s interests to have them in this manner and at this precise time. If she’s a successful entrepreneur, she might consider herself lucky she can’t reach the grapes, this doesn’t mean she’s going to give up; instead, she’s going to take a step back and approach the problem from a different perspective.

Finding a different angle

different-angle-fox

One entrepreneur’s opportunity is another’s complication and risk — they should pick their projects carefully and wisely. To a given problem, there are given solutions, depending on experience and levels of maturity. There was a time when the famished fox would have found a way to reach such low hanging fruit.

Instinctively, she may be disappointed she failed, but did she really give it her all? Her pride, sense of self-efficacy, curiosity and drive nags at her — there was a time when her emotions would have got the better of her — thinking the problem wasn’t with the grapes but with her attitude.

But over the years, she’s become more measured, her motivations shifting to new interests and areas of expertise.

She now has a different understanding of herself and her capabilities — she knows how to take a step back, and view the problem from a different angle. She has new skills and a mindset better adapted to visualising the big picture and thinking strategically.

The benefits of experience

After years as an entrepreneur she now has other strengths to take her projects to a new level. Her strengths lie in bringing together the different elements of her business model. Being unable to reach the grapes is a temporary setback. She knows she can’t completely eliminate risks; her aim is to reduce them to a level she can manage.

She’s done the research and has a great business idea and plan for how to process the grapes and add value by commercialising a consumer product for which she has a clear vision and a distinct market segment. She didn’t come to this spot by accident; these grapes are of the Fragolino varietal and a perfect match for her strategic needs and objectives.

She’s been working on her business model for weeks, and tried many different ways to ensure differentiation of her product in the market. According to her evaluation, backed by solid scientific and market research, the Fragolino grape is the key resource she needs for her product value proposition.

Entrepreneurs are risk management specialists, problem solvers. She needs to figure out how to harvest the raw materials she needs — a key activity in her business model — and which are currently out of reach.

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A solution would be a key partner to help her secure the Fragolino grapes. A partner for whom this low hanging fruit isn’t too high; who can organise the crucial supply chain to bring the raw material to the processing plant, to be bottled, labelled, boxed and shipped to distributors.

A partner with the passion and drive to accomplish this key activity in her business model; and who could benefit from her strengths as a strategically minded experienced entrepreneur.

Leveraging partners for growth

Along comes younger fox, an aspiring entrepreneur, who spots the grapes. The older fox explains how she’s too old to take advantage of the opportunity, but has a lot of business experience and a great idea for exploiting the resource, if he’s interested in taking care of that key activity — thus turning the entire operation into a profitable business.

He certainly would love to get involved in the wine business, but he’s unsure, nervous, fearful and thinks entrepreneurship is too risky, preferring a steady job. However, she motivates him, explaining that risk is relative and requires a solid plan to mitigate its negative effects.

With her plan and his efforts and resolve they can reduce any risks to a lower level than a steady job could offer. Plus, there’s the upside benefit of much bigger financial gains, quality of life, and doing something for which he has a passion.

Combining knowledge to become a success

She offers to be his business partner and mentor; he’ll learn about the wine business, research, strategy, negotiation, how to effectively communicate with people, develop products, marketing, sales.

In her new role as mentor and partner, the old fox isn’t full of herself, thinking she knows everything. Rather, she sees the role as a great challenge and responsibility. This will be her first time as a mentor and she’s sure to learn a lot too.

They’re ready for business. This is exactly the sort of challenge the older fox loves and for which she has a passion. She knows these grapes are a special type with a unique strawberry-like taste, and perfect for small niche premium production runs targeted at luxury restaurants and fine food shops.

The younger fox benefits from her expertise and strategic planning vision, and she from his energy and resourcefulness. They are different types of entrepreneurs, each fulfilling a different function in the running of the business, contrasted yet complementary all at once.

Together they are stronger, than they would have been apart

As a partnership they stand a better chance of succeeding where alone they would have failed. At first, the old fox may have failed, but she failed fast, and quickly pivoted to find a better solution by looking at the problem from different angles.

Reframing the questions, she sought a better fit, seeking answers according to realistic facts on the ground, personal desires, strategic intents and motivations, business model experience, maturity and needs required for bringing about a successful start-up launch.

By taking her time, and a step back, thinking more methodically and strategically, she was able to take several steps forward, make smarter decisions, and a better plan — thus creating the environment for a more efficient and profitable way of working.

Related: 3 Ways To Stop Taking Your Most Loyal Customers For Granted

With the big picture in mind, she was able to zoom in on specific problems and find the ideal strategic partner to help her fulfil the needs of her business model. All preparation for the final launch action are falling into place, increasing her chances of not failing, and reducing risks to a manageable level.

If all goes according to plan, she’s already thinking about the next growth phase — to scale the business by raising capital, thanks to a carefully prepared business plan.

Moving forward

Famished for ideas, the old fox was determined not to quit until she’d discovered the right strategy. She would not act merely on a whim, but instead took a step back to properly calculate the risks and rewards to secure a higher probability of success — and by mentoring the younger foxes, took her game to a whole new level of personal growth and fulfilment.

For the old fox, it is better to have 50% of a business than 100% of sour grapes; or wait 50% longer for a 100% better chance of reducing risks and avoiding failure.

The younger fox thinks it’s better to have 100% of an experienced crafty fox as a mentor and actual hands-on learning-by-doing experience, than a 50% chance his office job will be unfulfiling, and teach him few practical skills with lower potential financial rewards. It’s a win/win.

Alexander F. Goldsborough
Alexander F. Goldsborough previously researched entrepreneurship at OECD (The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) and was an Associate Professor of Practice at the China campus of Liverpool University (XJTLU). He is now the creator of Aesop For Entrepreneurs and the author of Creativity, Strategy and Leadership for Entrepreneurs. Visit www.aesopforentrepreneurs.com for more information.