The Goose and The Golden Eggs

Fables are a classic  way to communicate moral and social values.  They use a story with a hidden meaning that can be drawn out by the reader.  Among the longest lasting are Aesop’s fables.

Of Aesop’s, among the most familiar is “The Goose and The Golden Eggs.”  In this story a farmer discovers that one of his geese lays golden eggs.  Eventually, he kills it to get them all at once.  The accepted moral is that greed sometimes over reaches.

While greed is a possibility, it seems to me that the moral is that impatience is your enemy and boredom will lead you astray.

After a while, it becomes boring to pick up a single golden egg each day.   Wealth for living has accumulated and there is little incentive to continue the same old way.  Especially true if a large capital sum is required.  Maybe buy a business or large farm or create a bank.

Any of these would require much more wealth and it would be a long time to accumulate it at one egg a day.  So accelerate the process and kill the goose hoping to get all the eggs at once.

Impatience even for a good cause leads to destruction.  Look at the value of capitalism over the past 200 years.  If you want to free people from poverty, its track record seems exceptional.  Yet, politicians and others want something better and much sooner.

“Social justice” or “equality” are common themes but neither has the chance of success without resources that come from outside that system.  Wanting, wishing, promising and even deserving are not resources.

It seems to me that good goose husbandry would involve protecting the goose and discovering ways to make it more prolific. Probably more of them would be even better.

On the other hand, making it harder for capitalism to produce value seems the least likely way to get the necessary resources.

From the politicians view however, impatience sells.  If it is not all available now, someone is doing something wrong.  This approach could be just as tragic for us as for the farmer and his late, lamented goose.

In a similar vein, sales people who come upon a sales track that works, frequently become bored and stop using it.

Growth overcomes boredom and impatience.  The psychologist Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi calls it “Flow” and his model addresses possible outcomes when skill and challenge do not grow together.  More here


Flow is achieved by balancing challenge and skill.   Anxiety for example is having high challenge and low skill.

While Csíkszentmihályi does not mention impatience, it is still there.  It has to do with how you pick your battles.  Challenge first or skill first? We know they need to grow together but skill first, or at the same time as the challenge grows, does not force you to take precipitous action.  Taking on challenges first is life threatening for some.

Like the farmer who tried to get all the eggs at once, we sometimes want more value than is available on a daily basis.

Good planning includes time as an important variable.  Good planning sees all of opportunities, problems and deficient skills.  Good planning makes the process coherent and motivating.

Go for the flow!

As a contribution to Aesop, the smartest farmers would have insured the goose.


Don Shaughnessy is a retired partner in an international public accounting firm and is presently with The Protectors Group, a large personal insurance, employee benefits and investment agency in Peterborough Ontario.

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