2 Lessons on Productivity: Protecting The Golden Goose

There once was a poor farmer who, one morning, found a golden egg in the nesting area of his geese.  He was skeptical, thinking someone had pranked him or he had found a rotten egg, but when he picked it up, it was heavy. Still a bit confused, the farmer decided to take it to a local appraiser, where he discovered the egg was actually made of GOLD!

As you can imagine, the farmer was thrilled. He finds a jeweler and sells the egg for a small fortune. Feeling like he finally received his due for all his hard work, the farmer sleeps happily that night, but the story doesn't end.

The following day the farmer is astounded to discover another golden egg in the same goose's nest. Day after day, the farmer continues to receive golden eggs from his golden goose. As anyone would, the farmer goes on a shopping spree, buying himself a new tractor, truck, and even his wife some new diamond jewelry. Very quickly, his expenses outgrow the value of the daily golden egg. It's not enough so our farmer comes up with a bright idea.

He goes into his barn, grabs the golden goose, and kills it to open it up and collect all the eggs at once. But to his shock, there are no golden eggs inside the goose and now no goose to make golden eggs.

The farmer has killed his fortune!

I read this fable in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, where the author, Stephen Covey, uses the story to reveal an insightful lesson, but I think we can gather two:

Lesson #1: The Golden Egg

Extraordinary things can come from producing consistently. If the farmer held onto the producing goose, he could have amassed a considerable fortune, but he got impatient. We all have an egg we can produce daily (writing is one form of mine), maybe not as straightforward as golden eggs, but we too grow impatient. Nobody likes to wait for the long-term, significant rewards. Instead, we'd rather concede to short-term pleasures. The first lesson is to trust in the process of consistent effort—to value our golden egg.

Lesson #2: The Golden Goose

True effectiveness comes from the balance between the producer (the goose) and what gets produced (the golden egg). If you neglect the goose, you will soon be without production at all. In life, the goose is present in three forms of assets: financial, physical, and human (more on this later). Take care of your goose. 

Lesson #2: A Deep Dive

Covey then introduces a new concept: The P/PC formula for effective productivity. 


I realized that this formula lies at the heart of effective behavior and output. To produce (P), you must take care of your producer (PC) by proactively investing in the producer, so it gains a greater capacity to deliver golden eggs. In every aspect of life, when we focus too much on our desired results (P), we're vulnerable to miss the most vital component of production: the producer. In the long-term, this restricts our capacity to produce, and our results diminish. 

As mentioned, there are three forms of production assets in our life. Let's take a closer look at each:

Financial Assets: Various investments you hold to build wealth. If you decide to take your savings and purchase a shiny new car, you've drastically reduced the earning potential of your savings. If you choose to invest that same amount in another wealth vehicle, say real estate, index funds, or a new business venture, then you've enhanced your earning potential. Anytime you decide to spend cash on depreciating costs, you're starving the goose. However, every extra dollar you save per month nurtures the goose. 

Physical Assets: The car you drive, the house you live in, or your phone. If you're not taking care of these products, their use-value will shorten. If you never service your car, it wouldn't survive very long. 

Human Assets: You. Or in an organizational context, the people. 

All of these assets are important. If you don't take care of your financial assets, you can't expect significant returns. If you don't take care of your physical assets, they'll fail rapidly. 

To produce the golden eggs, you must invest in the health of the goose. 

The Human Asset (aka you!)

Minding the P/PC balance is shifting your focus from "What is my desired results?" to "What am I doing?". This mental shift transforms everything. Let's look at it in three of lifes' frameworks:

Earning: Instead of focusing on what you're earning, focus on what you can do to increase your earning capacity. 

All these questions shift the focus from what you think your earnings should be to opportunities that enhance your production—something directly within your control. In time, the results will multiply from your continuous investments into your earning potential (PC), and the results will speak for themselves. 

Health: The focus is nearly always on weight and aesthetic appearance. What is my weight? Do I look good in a mirror? These questions lead to strategies that optimize for only those specific desires. Usually, things we don't find enjoyable. A highly restrictive diet or heavy calorie-burning workouts. Now shift the focus to production capacity. What can you do that you enjoy doing? Nature walks? Rock climbing? Yoga? If you don't have something in mind, explore. There are activities you'll find fun and enjoyable that also burn calories. By discovering something you enjoy doing, you'll increase your likelihood to do it more (PC). What can you eat that's not processed and healthy? Can you pre-cook tasty meals with healthy foods? Lean into your capacity to prepare better food options. 

Relationships: Perhaps the most valuable to a happy life. In spousal relationships, we get stuck on what our partner is doing for us or what they're not. All of our focus is on the golden egg, but what about the goose, the relationship? What can you do to improve the relationship? What are you doing or not doing that your spouse desires? How can you be better at communicating or meeting their needs? Again, this shifts the focus from what you desire to what you can do to make a healthier relationship. Which inevitably produces those desired outcomes. 

Final Notes

It's in our nature to focus on outcomes. The paradox of this intuition is that investing in production will effectively give us better results. It's just not as exciting, so our attention gets spent on what's produced (P). However, if we're aware of this paradox and seek balance within the P/PC formula, it can be tremendously valuable. That is, yes, value your golden egg but never forget the health of the goose. 

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