Hanging Around

On the Ile de la Cite, just behind Notre Dame where the footbridge from Ile St. Louis connects the two islands, there is a small park. Just at the corner where the park meets the footbridge, there was – until last year – a mighty willow tree. Standing alone, its long sweeping branches hung out over the river Seine below, just as a willow tree’s should. I’d bet thousands of people walked by every week, asking themselves, “I wonder how old that tree is?” Imagine the history that tree has seen. Or should I say saw because last year it was cut down. I can only guess at how such a decision is made. Maybe a French civil engineer determined the tree was unsafe. Perhaps the tree had caught some disease, or its roots were upsetting the iron fence surrounding the park or the sidewalk beyond.

One of my Parisian friends lamented its disappearance with a Facebook status update: “My favorite tree is gone.”

But now, a half-dozen months later, in the same location, growing right out of the stump of the old tree, is a new willow. As it grows the old stump will rot away, making space for the replacement tree. Fifty years from now there will be a giant willow in the same spot; as there was a year ago and probably eighty years ago — if the recently deceased tree had also been planted on the roots of its forebear.

You could always count on that big tree. Iconic it was, a lazy willow hanging over the banks of a river. This one happened to be positioned at kilometer zero in Paris, in the shadow of the the great Notre Dame cathedral. The perseverance of this tree makes me think of the benefits of being there: just like being a salesperson, in the same industry, for the same company, for a long time. In some ways, selling gets easier when people know you’ll be around, and where they can find you. We all know that seasoned salesperson. He always seems to be bringing in business without working too hard. And sometimes we begrudge that efficiency. But she is reaping the reward for consistency, for representing a sector of the marketplace over time, for standing behind one product or service for many years.

The cycle of business is shortening. Technology and connectivity reduce response time. Turnaround times are quicker. We change jobs more often. Doing things quickly is more and more common. Which means doing things slowly, or with a long term view is – relatively speaking – scarce. Like the only weeping willow on Ile de la Cite, what is scarce has value.

If what is scarce has value then perhaps it’s useful to ask, what would I do if it is my intention to be around for the next decade or two?

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