The Keeper of the Spring

A short story with some commentary (shout out to ReStep Marketing for bringing this story to my attention!):

In an Austrian village along the eastern slope of the Alps, an elderly man had been hired many years earlier by a young town councilman to clear away the debris from the pools of water up in the mountain crevices that fed the lovely spring flowing through their town.

With faithful, silent regularity, he patrolled the hills, removed the leaves and branches, and wiped away the silt that would otherwise have choked and contaminated the fresh flow of water.

The village soon became a popular attraction for vacationers. Graceful swans floated along the crystal clear spring, the mill wheels of various businesses located near the water turned day and night, farmlands were naturally irrigated, and the view from restaurants was picturesque beyond description.

Years passed. One evening the town council met for its semiannual meeting. As they reviewed the budget, the Treasurer’s eye caught the salary figure being paid the obscure keeper of the spring.

“Who is this old man?” he asked. “Why do we keep him on, year after year? No one ever sees him. For all we know, he could be off golfing somewhere while he’s supposed to be ‘ranging the hills’.”

There was a murmur from the rest of the group. 

“We need to vote on this,” the Treasurer said. “That money could really be used somewhere else.”

And so, by a unanimous vote, they dispensed with the old man’s services.

For several weeks, nothing changed, but by early autumn, the trees began to shed their leaves, small branches snapping off and falling into the pools, hindering the natural flow of the water.

One afternoon, someone noticed a slight yellowish-brown tint in the spring. A few days later, the water was much darker. Within another week, a slimy film covered sections of the water along the banks, and a foul odor was soon detected. The mill wheels moved more slowly, some of them grinding to a near halt. The swans left, and the tourists were less impressed, beginning to dwindle. Clammy fingers of ill-health crept deeply into the village.

Quickly, the embarrassed council called a special meeting. Realizing their gross error in judgment, they rehired the old keeper of the spring, and within a few weeks, the veritable river of life began to clear up. The wheels started to turn, and new life began to bloom once again, bringing fresh vigor to the little hamlet tucked away deep in the Alps.


Isn’t the idea of working ON, rather than IN our businesses just like this story?

So many days operational details pull our attention away from the more important work of Mission, Vision, Goals, and Strategy clarity and focus. We feel chained to our desks, stuck in the weeds, and wondering why our teams can’t just take the initiative and “figure it out”. In our frustration, we spin our wheels more, focusing on the short-term and making reactive, emotional decisions. And then we’re shocked when the “spring gets dirty”.

After a little over a year of devoting ourselves full time to this blog and our work supporting clients, this story rings truer than ever. When it makes the least sense to continue to engage and invest in the long-term focus of working ON our businesses is when we most need to step back and do exactly that. This is difficult work, and it often doesn’t seem like work or time well-spent because the results are weeks, months, or even years in the future. But it makes all the difference. This quiet, under-the-radar work is what allowed many of our clients to have their best years in multi-generational histories in 2020 and 2021, and it’s what allows them and so many others to adapt (rather than react) and sustain growth and success well into the future despite crises and emergencies.

Tend the spring, do the planning, and work ON your business. The results are worth the sacrifices every time.

Thank you for your support! Cheers to 2022, and Happy New Year from CAE Solutions!


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Craig A. Escamilla
Craig A. Escamilla
Craig Escamilla helps you find solutions before problems exist. With fifteen years of consulting, teaching, and senior management experience, Craig brings a wealth of practical expertise to helping others work on rather than in their businesses.

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