It might annoy those who see business life as being glued to
a Blackberry twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, that some of the
highest rates of business success, at least as defined by the lowest rates of
business failure, are enjoyed by the technophobe Amish.
The Amish themselves would put this down to Divine
Providence, but, leaving the theology aside for a moment, their religious
lifestyle also brings distinct competitive advantages in the secular sense.
Top of the list is a reputation for integrity that is an
increasingly valuable asset in an increasingly valueless marketplace. It also
does no harm to have the proverbial Protestant work ethic. Finally, they are
among the few people in the West who still live with a real sense of community
that leads to practical co-operation between them in business – epitomised by
the beautiful “barn-raising” scene in Peter Weir’s film Witness.
All that said, the low rate of business failures among the
Amish still comes down to a basic, unsentimental truth: those who choose to
adopt cautious, low-risk business strategies are mathematically less likely to
fail than those who choose higher risk strategies.
The Amish preference for the low-risk, low-failure option is
a deliberate choice. They tend to stick to businesses they know. More
significantly, they also avoid borrowing money.
This limits their potential for growth, but it also limits
their exposure when times get tough. Recent months have demonstrated the
advantage of a business not having to rely on unreliable banks in a downturn.
It is for the entrepreneur to decide what sort of business
he wants. That depends on what he wants from his business – which depends, in
turn, on what he thinks he wants from his life. If that sounds too
philosophical, it should be remembered that the Amish succeed in business
precisely because their businesses are a direct reflection of their philosophy
That philosophy might seem alien to a City kid out for his first
hundred million, but as you get older, you see hundreds of those City types
come and go – most of them going in one of the downturns that always occur, but
which they never seem to foresee happening to them – and not coming back. Then
you begin to wonder if the Amish, who always endure, complete with their funny
hats and archaic language, might not have had the right idea all along.