Plant Trees You'll Never See

The New Zealand All Blacks are the most successful athletic team perhaps of all time. A rugby outfit whose name originates from the solid black uniforms, they have won 79% of their international matches spanning 68 years. James Kerr followed the All Blacks, interviewed them and distilled his learnings into a book, Legacy. Kerr organizes the book into 15 life lessons, three of which stood out to me.

Humility is the first. After each match, the All Blacks, among the greatest rugby players in the world, sweep up after themselves. They clean up their locker room after all the celebration of a victory or the disappointment of defeat.

Aggregation of marginal gains is the second. This idea reminded me of two equations.

1.01^365 = 37.8
0.99^365 = 0.03

A one percent improvement each day for a year creates a huge change. A one percent decrease in performance asymptotes to zero really quickly. Strive to improve each day just a little bit more.

Plant trees you’ll never see is the third, and my favorite. Said in other way, invest in long-term projects whose success you won’t see realized because they are the right thing for the organization. This idea is my favorite because that’s how teams create legacy. The All Blacks say it another way: leave the jersey better than how you found it.

This idea links the day-to-day improvements to the very long term ambitions of an organization. Something which are inextricably intertwined but easy to forget in the repetition of the daily grind.

Thanks, Neil, for sending this great book to me.

Published 2017-06-04 in Management 


Tomasz Tunguz is partner at Redpoint. I write daily, data-driven blog posts about key questions facing startups. I co-authored the book, Winning with Data. Join more than 20,000 others receiving these blog posts by email.


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