Chinese Bamboo

A tree that grows really tall—to a height of over eighty feet. It takes around five years and three months to grow to its full height. But here’s the interesting bit. For the first five years after you plant the seed, you see nothing. Absolutely nothing. Except perhaps a little shoot springing out of the bulb and struggling to make a squiggle.

And then, in the next ninety days, it shoots up to a towering eighty feet. Can you believe it? For the first sixty months, all the growth is invisible,

below the surface. The Chinese bamboo’s roots create a complex network, like a miniature version of the London Underground. It is these strong roots that, when fully developed, help support a tree that will soar above all else.

And in the next ninety days—yes, merely ninety days—it literally takes off.

And becomes as tall as an eight-storeyed building.

In this era of instant coffee and fast food, of get-rich-quick schemes and lose-weight-quicker regimens, of quarterly earnings and month-on-month growth, perhaps we all need to pause and take a lesson from the Chinese bamboo.

Patience has its reward. Nothing of substance happens in a jiffy. All too often, we are unwilling to wait for the pay-off, and tend to settle for shorter trees.

Having sown the seed and having initiated something, when we don’t see results, we get impatient. We keep pulling out the sapling to check if the roots are growing. (Well, when you do that, they don’t!)

As leaders and bosses, we tend to be impatient for results. And often, too often, we rush to reward the mushrooms that spring up after one spectacular rainy night (and wither away soon after)—only because we can see them! Long-term, sustainable successes take time, and a good question to ask yourself is whether your leadership style encourages—or even allows—the growth of the Chinese bamboo. Or are you creating an organization of stunted, but quickly visible trees?

Every major achievement is almost always preceded by years of toil, hard work, failure, stress, tests of character, determination, sleepless nights … All of which help form the network of roots that can then support real accomplishments. And eighty-feet-tall trees.

So the next time you feel frustrated by lack of results and want to give up, don’t. Think of the Chinese bamboo.

When you feel the world is unjust and is refusing to recognize your hard work and your commitment, don’t panic. Five years of subterranean activity will almost always be followed by three months of meteoric rise.

And ah, yes, after years of slogging it out in relative obscurity, when you finally achieve success, be prepared for people to say: ‘Oh, he’s so lucky. He’s become an overnight success!’

If only they knew about the Chinese bamboo!

Patience has its reward. Nothing of substance happens in a jiffy.