Kill the Cow

A family lives in the outskirts of a remote village on a small plot of land.  The family own one cow.  Each day they live from the milk of the cow.  If there is little milk, they eat little.  It there is lots of milk, they eat well.  The lives of the mother, the father, the children depend on the cow.

One autumn day, a lone traveller stops in the village.  He is hungry.  The family share their milk.  The traveller is grateful.
The traveller wishes to return the favour and help the family.  He doesn’t know how to help the family.  He hears that there is a wise man in the village.  He walks over to the home of the wise man.
photo credit: Martin Gommel
“I was hungry and the family fed me.  I would like to help them.  How can I help this family?”
The wise man said “Kill the cow.”
“Kill it?  How can that help them?  They depend for their lives on that cow.”
The wise man repeated “Kill the cow.”
The traveller was nervous about following such strange advice,  but the reputation of the wise man was such that he went ahead and killed the cow.
A year later the traveller happened to pass again through the village.  He noticed new shops and a thriving market.  He saw a new hotel that provided beds and food to the travellers who came for the market.  
The traveller entered the hotel.  Behind the bar he found the eldest son of the family of the cow.  The man was standing tall, smiling and happy.  The traveller greeted him and asked “What happened?”.
“We lost our cow.  There was no milk.  We had to go out and do something to eat.  We set up a small market, it grew.  We set up this hotel, it is growing.  Without the milk from our cow, we had to try new things.”
Silently to himself, the traveller reflected on the power of the wise man’s words.  “Kill the cow.”

“Any nation that thinks more of its ease and comfort than its freedom will soon lose its freedom; and the ironical thing about it is that it will lose its ease and comfort too.” W. Somerset Maugham

What is your cow?

Thanks to my entrepreneurial friend Elena H for the wonderful story 😉

Author: Conor Neill

Hi, I’m Conor Neill, an Entrepreneur and Teacher at IESE Business School. I speak about Moving People to Action.

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