Peer Learning

The Fable Of The Three Bridge-Builders

Salim Virani

An excerpt from our article on Quartz.

It all started with three bridge-builders, competing to cross the mighty rivers.

Those  rivers had held back the trading people for so long but the time of  prosperity was coming. The traders were ready to expand around the  world. And they needed the bridge-builders. They needed engineers to  give them better ways to go.

The  first bridge-builder saved her money from trading, and worked  tirelessly on her bridge. She negotiated well at each step, getting the  best price for wood and screws. But the bridge collapsed before it was  ever complete. The wood and screws were of poor quality and her focus on  conserving her savings had distracted her from engineering a solid  structure.

The  second bridge-builder knew she could double her resources by working  with the foreign road-layers, who had profits to invest. She negotiated  with one road-layer after another, making sure that she would get the  most profit from the tolls. But when her bridge was complete, the  road-layer had no more money to continue his road, so the bridge lead  nowhere.

The  third bridge-builder stayed focused on her main goal — she wanted her  people to prosper. She worked with the road-layers, asking one to help  with the bridge, the others to continue roads to different towns on the  other side. When she negotiated, she made sure everyone made money. She  kept them all focused on quality.

At  first, the third bridge-builder was worried about competition. She was  working with the suppliers that the first bridge-builder had rejected  for being too expensive, and was dealing with road-layers who were  making too much profit from her work. What if they succeeded with their  bridges and had more money than her?

What  saved her was that she wasn’t just thinking about her first bridge, but  many bridges after that. That’s what it would take for her and her  people to really prosper. Trying to take all the profits from just one  bridge seemed a waste of time. She would make more money overall with  more bridges, and could only do that with a network of prosperous  suppliers supporting her, and road-layers funding her — and everyone  making money.

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