A City Built 900 Years Ago Can Teach Us a Business Lesson Today

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Between the years 800 A.D. and 1130 A.D. something amazing happened in northwestern New Mexico. Without wagons or horses, no metal tools, and before the arrival of Columbus in 1492 or prairie tribes regularly migrated across the plains, a city existed in a place called Chaco Canyon. This small city (and the network of buildings and hubs) created architecture as high as five stories with trade networks stretching down deep into tropical Mexico. It was inhabited year round and included storage, ovens, living quarters, and plenty of protection from the high desert winter (the elevation is above 7,000 feet in most areas). Most amazing, the architecture involved using load-bearing timbers placed with an experienced eye and allowing multiple-level building structures made of three-feet-thick stacked, stone slab. It was not an accident how this ancient city was built and sustained.

Pressing On

The persistence of the ancient Chaco Canyon residents is an even more surprising fact. Many of the timbers and logs involved in the construction of the homes came from far away. The typical plant growth in the area of Chaco is essentially shrub brush and desert flora. There are no trees or forests. Further, the entire Canyon area is surrounded by mesas that are easily five to ten stories high. They are not at an easily climbed elevation out of the Canyon. In fact, the only flat exit out of the Canyon area is to the south, miles away. So how did all the timbers get there in the first place? Persistence. The residents of Chaco walked the timbers from up to 75 miles away from where trees and forest grew. Without horses, wagons, or any easy transportation, the residents of Chaco walked and imported every building material from the outer region fifty to one hundred miles away.

Businesses today are often swamped with offers and promises that the next big technology, motivational program, computer hardware, commercial vehicle, or transportation plan will transform their company and produce huge new market rewards. While there’s plenty of sales language involved, the real fuel that helps businesses break through challenges and grow more is pure, old-fashioned persistence. Things are easy when the elements of business are cooperating; what matters is what helps the business sustain itself and continue to succeed when times are tough.

Look Beyond Your Resources

Persistence is a skill that intelligently keeps things going when resistance occurs and requires smart thinking and ingenuity. Managers and leaders are frequently faced with problems and not enough resources; it’s rare that a business leader gets to deal with a problem with the ideal amount of resources available. However, persistence shouldn’t be confused with being stubborn and banging one’s head against a wall needlessly. Persistence is focused but also capable of being redirected to work around an obstacle instead of only through it.

The people of Chaco Canyon are long gone, having stopped building their city by 1130 A.D. likely due to a serious drought and lack of any more resources being available. However, what they did produce for 300 years required consistent dedication in extreme conditions. Business leaders can take a lesson from history in what these early people accomplished. They figured out how to solve a problem and thrive in a desert environment that would otherwise work against them. Managers and company owners have to find a way to get above the weeds when faced with problems and define clear paths. It’s not easy, but persistence is what makes the impossible very possible.

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