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In a Crisis, Think Like a Donkey (+ 15 Tips for Working Remotely)

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Business Management Best Practices

In a Crisis, Think Like a Donkey (+ 15 Tips for Working Remotely)

Like the fable of the donkey stuck down a well, there's a lot of panic about the current pandemic and associated economic challenges. But, like the moral of that fable, every adversity can be turned into a stepping stone

By Charlie Scott April 1, 2020
donkey tied up on a farm with a path leading away uphill
As we learned from the donkey fable, in the middle of chaos, it's important not to give up but to shake off the dirt and move on up. | Photo: Piqsels

A thousand years ago, a desperate farmer couldn't find his donkey. (I know, this isn't the usual way to start an article—it’s a fable, but stay with me.) The farmer depended on this donkey to provide much of the labor needed to feed the farmer's family and earn a living, but the donkey was also a dear family pet, so its absence was really distressing to the farmer.

While frantically searching for the donkey, the farmer heard a wailing sound way off in the distance. Following the sound, to his shock he found his beloved donkey had fallen into a deep, abandoned well.  

The farmer worked diligently to extract his faithful donkey, to no avail. The well was just too deep for a possible rescue. The donkey whined and screamed in fear and misery. Sadly, the farmer realized the donkey was destined for a protracted, painful death.

The farmer knew the most humane course of action would be to bury the donkey alive as fast as possible, thus shortening its suffering. So the farmer summoned his family and neighbors to shovel dirt into the well and put the donkey out of its misery.


When the donkey realized what was going on, it screamed in even greater panic and fear as the dirt rained down into the well. Then, the donkey became silent. The grief-stricken farmer peered into the well and was amazed at what he saw. The donkey wasn't dead. On the contrary, with each shovel of dirt thrown its way, instead of panicking, the donkey simply shook the earth from its back and took one small step up. Eventually, this determined donkey stepped up and out of the now-filled well and went on to live a full, productive life.


Winner, Whiner, or Time Waster?

Granted, I may have an odd way of looking at things, but to me this fable parallels today’s situation, especially in the home building industry. There's currently a lot of panic, screaming, and wailing going on while a lot of dirt is being thrown our way. This is a scary time for everyone, and the feeling of being buried alive seems real. But we have a choice, just like the donkey did. With every day and every new crisis, bad news can be viewed as a new shovel of dirt. We can choose to be buried by it or to shake it off and step up … and one day we, too, will be freed from these challenges and live an even fuller and more appreciative life.

In the middle of all this chaos, let’s look at what we can do to be productive in this unusual and challenging work environment. Now is a time when the words of John Wooden, the legendary 10-time NCAA champion coach, have never been truer. He said, “Don’t let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.” In other words, we mustn't waste this unique situation, where the home building world has temporarily stopped. Instead, we should use this time to be disciplined and to sharpen our saw and be prepared to prosper. Be 100% assured that one day soon the shovels of crisis dirt will stop pouring down and we will rebound. And, like the determined donkey, those who shook off the dirt, stepped up with every challenge, and sharpened their saw will achieve the fastest success.

Every fable must have a moral, and the moral to this story is that screaming and whining about a tough situation may get you noticed, but it won’t get you out of your predicament. Having the determination and courage to shake off each problem and then use the obstacle as a stepping stone to higher performance is the mark of a winner. Every day offers you the opportunity to choose, Winner, Whiner, or Time Waster? It’s up to you.


15 Tips for Maximizing Remote Working

  1. Keep to your work routine—rise, shine, professionally dress, and “go to work.”
  2. Maintain meeting schedules, including morning kick-off meetings.
  3. Clean and organize your computer files and email.
  4. Get current with, or ahead of, your Continuing Education Credits (even if you don’t need them).
  5. Take online training courses (Safety, Sales, OSHA, etc.).
  6. Explore podcasts and webinars in your area of specialty (that is, sales, management, warranty, customer service, etc.).
  7. Sign up for trade publications (like Pro Builder, Builder, etc.) and read current and past articles.
  8. Document your 2020-2025 goals (professional and personal).
  9. Read the business/leadership/personal development best sellers, such as Good to Great, and Mastering the Rockefeller Habits. Better yet, form a co-worker book review club.
  10. Exercise—use that saved commute time as an investment in your health (physical and mental).
  11. Call your family, co-workers, and especially your customers (past and present). A little show of concern goes a long way in times like these.
  12. Practice your craft—the NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL all practice 4+ hours for every game hour—this slowdown/home time is a once in a lifetime opportunity at unrestricted personal practice time. Seize it!
  13. Managers: Continue to lead from afar. Continue daily huddles, status meetings, provide information/progress updates, and most of all, promote personnel development plans (that is, recommended readings, sharing newsletters, suggesting specific webinars/podcasts, etc.). 
  14. Share this article with others who may benefit from this fable and its application to today’s times.
  15. Last, but not least, think like the donkey and shake off the bad, use challenges as stepping stones, and emerge a winner. 


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Written By

Charlie Scott has over 30 years of homebuilding industry experience including front line roles as new home Salesperson, Builder, Quality Assurance, VP of Operations and EVP/minority owner. As an industry consultant, he’s worked with hundreds of home builders to improve their operational excellence. He also has evaluated more than 40 home builders as a National Housing Quality Award (NHQA) Examiner and was inducted into the NHQA Hall of Fame.

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