What’s Right is What Works

“In 1915, deep in the jungles of South America, the rising conflict between two rival American fruit companies came to a head. Each desperately wanted to acquire the same five thousand acres of valuable land.

The issue? Two different locals claimed to own the deed to the plantation. In the no-man’s land between Honduras and Guatemala, neither company was able to tell who was the rightful owner so they could buy it from them.

How they each responded to this problem was defined by their company’s organization and ethos. One company was big and powerful, the other crafty and cunning. The first, one of the most powerful corporations in the United States: United Fruit. The second, a small upstart owned by Samuel Zemurray.

To solve the problem, United Fruit dispatched a team of high-powered lawyers. They set out in search of every file and scrap of paper in the country, ready to pay whatever it cost to win. Money, time, and resources were no object.

Zumurray, the tiny, uneducated competitor, was outmatched, right? He couldn’t play their game. So he didn’t. Flexible, fluid, and defiant, he just met separately with both of the supposed owners and bought the land from each of them. He paid twice, sure, but it was over. The land was his. Forget the rule book, settle the issue.

This is pragmatism embodied. Don’t worry about the “right” way, worry about the right way. This is how we get things done.”

– The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday, p.98-99 What’s Right is What Works

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