Beansprout Wisdom

“Quick, now, yesterday!” We are in a society that demands instant gratification and quick results. We select quick win projects with measurable results in 3 months. Organizations franchise their operations with the goal to replicate themselves as quickly as possible in the market place. We abort operations that do not show results quickly, or we give up on people when they do not seem to deliver fast enough.


At home, we send kids to enrichment classes early on with the hope that they will read Harry Potter before they start formal school. This impatience for quick results takes the joy out of the ride and harms long-term growth and development.


There is a Chinese story about a little boy who wanted his bean sprouts to grow quickly. Day after day, he went to the fields excitedly hoping to see it a little taller than the day before. He was disappointed that any growth through the night was barely perceptible. He had a bright idea, or so he thought. He gave the bean sprouts a little lift and pulled each stalk out a little. He thought he was helping them grow faster. What happened next? Soon all his bean sprouts died.

Oftentimes in our impatience for quick results, we are guilty of pulling the bean sprouts.


Growth and development is a natural course of life. Given the normal circumstances, a baby will grow at various milestones – he will start to crawl, his teeth will appear and soon he will walk and talk. People who have not seen the baby for a while will notice that he has grown bigger. But if you’re the caretaker with the baby everyday, this growth is imperceptible, until one day there is a marked development, e.g., when the baby’s tooth suddenly appears. You can see the development more obviously from a distance.

While growth seems imperceptible, it does not mean no growth.


Instead the foundation is being built. During this stage, it seems like nothing is happening. But it could be the most important stage. Like roots growing deep into the soil, you can’t see the roots growing, but it’s only with strong and well spread out spread roots that the plant can grow tall and strong.


In a team or an organization, the roots could be the relationships, purpose and the commitment of its people. In a child’s development, the root could be his interests and internal motivation to excel. In an adult’s learning, the root could be clarity of his purpose and goals. Once these roots are in place, there is no stopping, growth is inevitable. It then flip over to the other side, where actions will deliver results.


So what we should be nurturing is the conditions for the roots to grow strong. Patience is a key quality in this process. This means not pulling the bean sprouts to force growth. For a leader, this could mean getting out of the way, while the team sorts itself out and learns how to work with one another. As a professional, it could mean not being in a hurry to get somewhere in one’s career without an inner clarity of one’s strengths and purpose. As a parent, it could mean giving the child opportunities to be exposed to different activities to explore his interest and cultivating the joy in the activity itself.


So ask yourself, what are the invisible roots growing in your work or your life? How can you create the conditions for these roots to grow without pulling it prematurely? I’d love to hear from you – a comment, discussion or smiley face. Of course, please also feel free to share this with your communities, if you think it’s useful.

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