One hundred and eleven years ago, someone lifted a block of rough-hewn limestone from the new quarry near Wintour’s Leap outside Chepstow. They carried it a few yards to build it into a garden wall using lime mortar to secure it in place. At about the same time he drank a mug of Bovril, discarding the now empty jar into the space between the two skins of the wall. In my mind’s eye, I see a chilly autumn day, with a builder with cold and sore hands wrapped around a steaming mug enjoying the flavour and savouring his work.
One hundred and eleven years later, ivy cascaded over a now rather sad and neglected wall. I snipped through the final thick stem, and about 2 metres of wall tumbled at my feet. Most of that old lime mortar now crumbled to dust. The limestone blocks fell onto Offa’s Dyke Path (more an ancient administrative border between England and Wales than a formal dyke) which runs alongside our wall. In the rubble, exposed, undamaged, the discarded Bovril bottle. A hand-blown brown bottle moulded with the brand name visible, yet instantly recognisable by its shape, even today.
Yesterday, I cleared and stacked the stones. I dismantled until I found solid foundations, good footings. I was ready to start the rebuilding work. Today, I mixed up some new lime mortar and selected the best stones. I laid three courses of stones on each side of the wall that was damaged. It’s not finished, but it is already taking shape.
As I worked, a family walked down the path. The younger man paused. He commented that I had demolished a lot. “Could it not have been patched?”, he asked.
Before I could reply, his father said “Son if you want to do a better job sometimes you have to take things back to the foundations, start again, and build it stronger”.
I smiled as they continued their walk.
In business too, we can all build process on top of the old method. Have you designed things and then adapted them? Changed parts of them? Things that do not work as you intended them to? Should you add another patch? Another bit of extra glue? Or do you cut the last tie to the way it had been done and build afresh?
Building Better Business has always meant not being afraid to dismantle the past to build a healthier future. Who knows what snippets and insights are buried.
Sometimes you have to take things apart in order to build them right. I will have a wall that will now last at least another century. You can have a business that is reliable, consistent, and strong. Be bold, take those parts of your business that no longer support you apart, and rebuild them. The test of time is at the heart of Building Better Business.
Do you have something in your business that needs to be dismantled and rebuilt? Let’s talk it through.
Photo ©2020 by William Buist