A farmer famed for his agricultural know-how once hired a neighbor’s teenage son to help him do the spring plowing. The farmer believed in letting people do their work without undue supervision, so he placed the boy on the tractor and went over the hill to work on another field. Anxious to plow straight furrows, the inexperienced teenager kept looking over his shoulder to check how he was doing.

Despite this precaution, he was dismayed to find that by the time he reached the edge of the field, the row he was plowing was noticeably crooked.

When the farmer came back to see how the young man was doing, he instantly saw what was the problem. Taking the boy aside, the farmer told him in a calm voice, “You can’t plow a straight row if you continually look back. You must keep your eyes focused straight ahead. And always remember where you’ve been.”

So it is with a lot of important tasks in life — don’t just look back; instead focus on the future. Our eyes are in front of our heads because it is more important to look ahead than to look behind.

Satchel Paige, one of the greatest baseball pitchers of all time, was asked by a writer for Collier’s magazine about his philosophy of life since he seemed ageless. One of them was “Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.”

Whether you hope to start your own business, aspire to advance in the organization you currently work for, or just want to support your employer’s success the best you can, understanding how a business grows and survives is a critical skill. These factors influence your fortunes and your organization’s growth over the long haul. Pay close attention to them.

Trust — Whatever your role, concentrate on keeping your word and living up to your values. Customers and co-workers want to know they can depend on you. Management takes notice of and values trustworthiness above just about every other trait.

Decisiveness — Learn to make decisions promptly instead of waiting for every last piece of data. An imperfect decision that you can correct later is usually preferable to a right answer that comes too late.

Competition — Study your market and get to know everything you can about other players in your industry. You don’t want to be caught off guard by a rival’s new idea.

Records — Be meticulous in documenting your activities. Good records help you preserve ideas, establish your credibility, and prove your point when the facts aren’t clear.

Network — Build relationships and connections with a wide variety of people in and out of your industry. Your network can be a source of ideas, employees and advice, but it can take time to build up.

Patience — Concentrate on incremental progress, not blockbuster victories. Establishing a habit of slow but steady success will build everyone’s confidence and minimize risk.

Learning from the past is perhaps the best way to prepare for the future. Always remember where you have been.

Mackay’s Moral: The person who does not look ahead remains behind.


Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or e-mail harvey@mackay.com.