Organizations Are Born Stoic But Die Epicurean

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As organizations grow, change is inevitable, but not all changes are for the better.

“Organizations are born Stoic but die Epicurean”

Wil Durant (1935-1975) is credited with coining this platitude. He was speaking of nations, but I believe it applies to organizations and to individuals.

We start out fending for ourselves. We scratch and scrape, wasting little and stretching every dollar and minute for all we can get out of it. As we get more prosperous, we loosen up. We’re a little less careful…a little more relaxed about our spending and about how we use our time. We take up golf, or fishing, or photography. Our standards get higher and higher. We don’t want McDonalds anymore, we like fine dining!

I’ve watched companies do this. The first office is a sublease with 20 year old furniture.

Customers are served like they’re the only one. Every employee does multiple jobs. It’s stoic, it’s stripped-down. It’s fantastic.

But as success comes, the company moves to “more appropriate” class A office space. The organization is “rationalized” with everyone knowing their single, specific job. Customers are “handled” by the appropriate department. And it’s so boring.

Churches are great examples of this principle. Twice, my wife and I led ministries within young churches; led them from startup to growth mode. Twice, we were replaced by staff hires…people paid to do what we were doing for free. By spending money and hiring someone, the church “lightened our load.” It took away our pain… we no longer had to prepare, make calls, or develop leaders. But it also killed our passion… we enjoyed the sacrifice, the giving, the pain of birthing something special.

Over a period of time, organizations build more and more comfort into their environments. Incumbents have more to protect, so the truth about things gets a little fuzzy. Overhead grows, focus diminishes, and “boom”—you wake up, and you’re in trouble.

Think about your organization… your church… your family.

Is it stoic?

Does every dollar matter? Are people stretched and engaged? Is there shared sacrifice for common goals?

Or is it epicurean?

Is it lazy and getting lazier? Is it fat? Wasteful? Ungrateful? Arrogant?

The natural progression Durant spoke of is real.

Only passionate leaders can slow the fade.

Question: So which is it….stoic or epicurean? 

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