3 Lessons Business Can Learn from Thanksgiving

102 passengers boarded a small ship named the Mayflower in September 1620 and left England behind them for building a new life in a new world. 66 days later these entrepreneurs—now known as Pilgrims—landed on the shores of Massachusetts and met America’s first businessmen—Native Americans. Tribes were organizations that had one client—Earth. They cultivated it, nurtured it, tilled it and loved it. In return Earth fed and clothed them.


A year later they sat down to a first Thanksgiving. Native Americans and the settlers feasted for three days, together. And they did so to celebrate and give thanks for the year’s harvest. Hence, three lessons for business.

1. Be The Best Business For Earth Vs. On Earth

Business does not live outside nature. We are part of it. Nature in fact is a stakeholder. Whole Foods CEO John Mackey created “The Declaration Of Interdependence” for his grocery store to remind his associates that the planet too is an important client. Red Lobster, whose purpose it is to “Serve The Sea,” not only serves it at tables but also serves the oceans by creating programs that replenish the seas. If the oceans are their seven warehouses they have to keep them stocked.

Earth is wise as well; after all she’s been in business for nearly four billion years. From Mother Nature, we learn that a harvest takes four seasons, not four quarters and that cooperation among all forms of life, not competition creates growth.

2. There Is No Such Thing As Competition

When Pilgrims and Native Americans sat down at the same table and shared the harvest, they demonstrated humanity at its best. Years later, our nation would show our worst by brutally evicting America’s original renters but in 1621, we had it right—winning all wasn’t important. All winning was.

The word competition comes from the Latin root which means, “to thrive together.” How did we get that notion so wrong? Competition does not give anyone a sustainable advantage. In fact, it puts your business at a disadvantage because you are not focused on your innate strengths, but your enemy’s weaknesses.

Companies need to come to the table with their distinctiveness. What makes you distinctive also makes you indispensible. Harley-Davidson is not just a motorcycle. It’s a tribe of men and women who have a character so strong that you can’t even think of a competitor. Just try. See what I mean—they have no competition.

Native Americans did not attack the Pilgrims because they were different, in fact, they taught them how to harvest.

3. Giving Thanks And Thanks For Giving

As a kid, I was not a fan of Thanksgiving. For one, the meal was held at a strange time. Who eats dinner at three o’clock? Secondly, the food itself was odd. Kids don’t dream of mashed turnips, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, and stuffing. Lastly, some friends and relatives showed up to show each other up.

Today, I am grateful that Thanksgiving begins at three because there would not be enough time to enjoy our food, friends and family if we started a minute later. The meal itself is magnificent—my favorite part is the stuffing. And our guests are the most delicious part of the celebration—a time to harvest those deeds not deals that were sewn throughout the year.

Being in business is not about how much you have made, but whom you have made better. It is not about how far you have gotten, but how much you have given.

This Thanksgiving, business should return to the roots of this holiday and like the Pilgrims herald the risks you have taken, and like Native Americans share what you have learned with others and share your feast with others.

There are so many needs in the world that businesses like yours can fill and so many brands that could become the bonds that tie us together. Be one of those organizations so that you not only partake in giving thanks, but also can be the recipient of those who say thanks for giving.

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A version of this article originally appeared on Gandhi’s Be Magazine.

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