The Two Brothers (A Parable)

by | Jul 23, 2020 | Parables on Learning

There were two brothers who lived in a city near the coast. When their father, a successful sea merchant, fell severely ill, he told the two brothers that he intended to divide his estate equally between them.

“There will be plenty to get you started on your own professional journeys,” he said. “But you will have to work hard in order to make your dreams a reality.”

Their father died several months later and, as he had promised, his two sons inherited equal portions of his estate.

The older brother, who was more naturally aggressive and impatient, immediately invested in property for a store and warehouse. He was certain that, with his natural charm and wit, he could use these properties to grow a new business quickly and sell it at great profit.

Meanwhile, the younger brother spent several months planning methodically. He developed ideas for different businesses, discussed them with his friends and other people in the community, and examined the successes and failures of other businesses based on similar ideas.

After half a year had passed, the older brother had made tremendous progress. He had worked around the clock to get his store off the ground and to stock his warehouse with the appropriate goods. He also had the good fortune to open his store just as additional trade routes had been established and, as a result, an influx of new people began arriving.

The younger brother was equally pleased with his progress, although he still lacked anything tangible to show for his efforts. Through careful planning, he had arrived at a business idea that he knew would be successful. Perhaps more important, it was an idea that was designed to weather the societal and economic storms that would inevitably appear.

One morning, after a night out celebrating his success with friends, the older brother stopped by his younger brother’s small office to offer a challenge.

“You have always been the cautious one, little brother,” he said.

“I prefer to think of myself as rigorous,” the younger brother said.

“Of course. Perhaps you’d like to make a friendly wager about our different approaches?”

“What kind of a wager?” the younger brother said.

“How about this? At the end of the year, six months from now, we will see whose business has been the most successful. The loser will place an advertisement in the city newspaper congratulating his brother on growing a more successful business”

“And by success, you mean which of our businesses has the greatest value?”

“Of course,” the older brother said.

‘That hardly seems fair. After all, I have yet to formally launch my new company.”

“True. I suppose the wager would be unfair to you, especially considering that my business is already so successful.”

“On the other hand, it might be good motivation,” the younger brother said. “I’ll accept your wager.”

Over the next two months, the older brother did everything he could to make his business even more successful. He borrowed money to add new stores throughout the city and to increase promotion and publicity. His debt grew but so did his success and his popularity around the city.

During the same time, the younger brother finally launched his new business. It consisted of one small building, which he used both as an office and as a showcase for the imported goods he could provide to merchants at discounted prices. It was certainly a modest beginning, he thought to himself, but he believed it could grow quickly with steady and hard work.

A few days after the younger brother had finally opened the business, his older brother stopped by.

“I don’t mean to criticize, little brother,” he said. “But being so slow to open has surely caused you to miss many opportunities.”

“I had hoped to open last month,” the younger brother said. “Unfortunately, I was delayed because the city was slow to approve my merchant permits.”

“Tsk tsk,” his brother said, shaking his head. “There was no need to wait, little brother. You could simply have done as I did. I opened with provisional approval and a commitment to secure the appropriate permits within 12 months.”

“I suppose,” the younger brother said, but thought to himself that at least this way he would have one less potential obstacle in the future.

Over the next month, the younger brother’s business grew steadily as more merchants learned about his products and prices. And, since he had designed his business to require few employees, his costs rose very little as he took in more money each week.

Meanwhile, the older brother, thinking how successful he had been and how far ahead of his brother he was, decided he deserved a vacation. He quickly hired a new manager to look after things in his absence and then set off for a relaxing, month-long excursion.

Upon his return, he again stopped by his younger brother’s office.

“I see you’re still in the ‘getting started’ phase,” he said, looking around his brother’s small, unadorned office.

“Things are actually going really well,” the younger brother said. “I’ve been adding new accounts and product lines. I have more orders than I can fill.”

“Well, with such a small business, even a little success can seem overwhelming, I’m sure.”

“The good news is that I’m right where I thought I would be according to my business plan.”

“But where’s the big business, little brother? To get that, you need to be more aggressive. You have to take chances. You have to promote! You spend so much time planning and thinking that you’re missing the big opportunities.”

After the conversation, the older brother returned to his offices feeling rather smug. He was met there by a rather worried-looking new manager.

“I have some bad news, Boss,” the manager said. “While you were on vacation, the city elected a whole slate of new representatives to the Council.”


“Well, it seems that the new representatives are planning to revoke any provisional licenses granted by the former Council members.”

“What? When?”


“They can’t do that!” the older brother said. “We would have to shut our stores.”

“I know. But it could be worse. I’ve already started preparing the paperwork so we shouldn’t be closed for more than a week.”

“A week! Do you know how much money that will cost us? And you think it could be worse?”

The older brother went to the Council offices to plead his case but to no avail. He was forced to close his stores for an entire week while he acquired the appropriate merchant licenses for his operations. As luck would have it, that same week a competitor opened two new stores in the city.

“When my stores reopen next week, I’ll need to slash my prices and launch even bigger promotions than usual,” the older brother thought. So he began promoting his store reopenings with newspaper ads, billboards, and radio spots. In addition, he cut back on staff wherever possible to reduce his overhead and began working extended hours to offset the reduction.

A week later, the older brother’s stores reopened but not all of his customers returned. Some had already switched their loyalty to the new competitor. When he reviewed the company ledgers at the end of the month, he realized that he was on the brink of financial trouble.

“I can’t raise my prices and still compete with the competition,” he thought. “But, if I don’t find some way to bring in additional revenue I won’t be able to manage my debt.” The only immediate solution he could think of was to close two of his locations and to cut the staff even further at his remaining stores. “I know I can work my way out of this,” he thought.

That same afternoon, while making his way from one store location to another, the older brother decided to visit his brother’s office.

“How are you doing?” the younger brother said with concern. “I heard you had experienced some setbacks.”

“Minor setbacks, I assure you.”

“That’s good to hear. Things are moving along as planned here,” the younger brother said. “Nothing too exciting but lots of steady growth.”

“I’ll still be way ahead of you when our wager is up,” the older brother said.

Realizing that there were only six weeks left until the end of the year, the older brother intensified his efforts to make sure that he would win the wager. He worked long hours, going everything he could to cut costs and attract new customers. “My finances were finally beginning to recover,” he thought. “If I can just keep going at the current pace, I’ll be back on top of things.”

But two weeks later, suffering from what he believed to be a bad cold, the older brother grew dizzy and then collapsed while working in one of his stores. When he regained consciousness, he noticed that he was in his bedroom and his younger brother was sitting beside the bed.

“Good, you’re finally awake,” the younger brother said. “We’ve been worried about you.”

“How long have I been here?” the older brother said.

“For a week.”

“A week? My stores! I’ve got to get out of here and back to my stores.”

“I’m afraid you’re not up to going anywhere,” the younger brother said. “The doctor says you’ve been suffering from a bad case of pneumonia. You will need to rest at home for at least another week.”

“But my business!” the older brother said with a moan. “I’ll be ruined.”

“About that…”

“About what?”

“Your business.”

“What about it?”

“I was wondering if you might be interested in taking on a partner?”

“Did you have someone in mind?”


“You? But you’ve just barely started your own business!”

“While it’s true that I’ve just started, I’ve continued to grow steadily over the last six months while managing to keep my costs extremely low. I’m doing much better than I expected.”

“Even so, I doubt you have been successful enough to help me. I simply have too much debt and no way of generating enough revenue to cover it while I’m sick.”

“I’ve already spoken to your creditors,” the younger brother said. “They are willing to renegotiate the terms of your loans if we partner.”

“I don’t understand,” the older brother said.

“It’s simple, really. I have a growing number of contracts with merchants from all over. With my connections, I can provide products for your stores at a lower cost and, at the same time, create new revenue streams for my business. And, I have enough money to lower your existing debt and make some improvements to your stores.”

“I can’t believe it!”

“Of course, one of the first things we need to do is get you more help in your stores. You’re our best promoter, after all, and we can’t have you getting sick again.”

“But what about all that planning you’ve done? Won’t this throw you off track?”

“Actually.,” the younger brother said, “my plan has always been to find new channels for distributing products. Partnering with you fits in perfectly!”

The older brother slumped back and shook his head in silence.

“You need to rest,” the younger brother said.

“Everything was going so well,” the older brother said softly.

“And it will be going well again very soon,” his brother said.

“Thanks to you.”

“And you,” the younger brother said. “And, of course, thanks to a good plan.”

The Lesson
Taking the time to plan and organize will inevitably save time in the long run and lead to greater success.


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