Spiritual Adventures in the Workplace

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Pet Milk Lesson 2


I’m still talking about the book, A Portrait of Progress, by Martin L. Bell.  In 1885, John Meyenberg convinced the farm community of Highland, Illinois to invest in his idea of producing and canning evaporated milk.  It seemed like a good idea, and the citizens of Highland did their homework before plunking down their money.  But during the first several months of operation, lots of bad things happened.

The local bank collapsed.  That might have stopped them, but they were able to raise money from another source.  Then Meyenberg’s process didn’t work exactly as expected and they had to shut down production to make the needed changes.  After these setbacks, the sterilizer exploded.  Once they finally got up and running at full capacity, they discovered that their water supply was too low.  They added existing wells into their system and it still wasn’t enough.  So then they had to dig new ones.

Which suggests Pet Milk Lesson 2: In the world of corporate ventures, Murphy knows best: if anything can go wrong, it probably will. But since the organization takes on a life of its own, everyone involved will do what they can to keep the venture going.

The Pet Milk Company faced severe problems in the first days of its existence, but they couldn’t give up now without harming a number of people.  That’s the thing about corporate ventures: they affect lots of different folks in significant ways.  There were investors who wanted a return on their investment.  There were farmers who were counting on selling their milk to the new company.  There was a whole system of transportation that had been put in place to get the milk from the farms to the factory.  There were people who had been hired to work in the factory.   Arrangements had been made with distributors.  And the whole community was counting on this company to help their town to grow.  Yes, the company experienced a number of setbacks, but they couldn’t give up now.

They were one year into this venture when they faced a problem far more severe than any of the others I’ve mentioned—one that threatened to nullify everything they were trying to do.  Production was humming, and cans of evaporated milk were going out to merchants all over the region.

And now they discovered that the milk was spoiling.  Cartloads of evaporated milk were being sent back—filled with spoiled milk.

That, after all, was the whole reason they were in business: to provide the public with milk that wouldn’t spoil.  And the worst thing was, they couldn’t figure out why it was happening.  Were the cans not being properly sealed?  Did the failure lie in the cooking phase?  Or… could it be that Meyenberg’s process wasn’t reliable after all?

As the people at the top of the company asked these questions—all of which had to be asked, of course, if they were going to get to the bottom of it—Meyenberg became insulted and resigned.  Now the leaders of the company had an even more serious problem: their whole reason for being, as a company, was to provide unspoiled canned milk, and the man who had devised a way to make that happen had just resigned.

What were they going to do now?

(To be continued…)


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