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Clever and Foolish Transcript

Once Upon A Business – Episode 69

Clever and Foolish Transcript

Lisa Bloom: In Bangladesh almost every villager knows the folktale of the Tetan Buri, clever old woman, and the Boka Buri, the foolish old woman. Two old women chummed up together. One of them was very cunning and sharp while the other one was very foolish and credulous. They shared one common wrap, a Kantha, one cow and a small piece of land.

Hi, I’m Lisa Bloom, the story coach, and you’re listening to Once Upon a Business. In each episode, we explore a story, a fairytale, folktale, or traditional story, so that we can discover the amazing lessons relevant for business and for entrepreneurs.

The clever old woman, the Tetan Buri suggested that the wrap will be used by her in the night and the Boka old woman would have it in the day. The other woman agreed. The result was that in the cold night, the foolish old woman shivered while the clever one slept soundly with the wrap. Regarding the cow, the clever one suggested that the front portion belonged to the foolish old woman and the hind part was hers. This was agreed to. The result was the foolish old woman had to feed the cow and give her water, but the other one took all the milk. When there was paddy or sugarcane grown on the small piece of the land, the arrangement was that the clever one would get the portion above the ground while the part below the soil would go to the foolish old woman. This was also agreed to. The paddy or the maize went to the clever one while the foolish one had the useless roots, which she had to pull out and burn to make the land ready again.

The foolish old woman was practically starving and used to beg for a little food. One day, she approached the barber of another village for some food. Since all barbers are very clever, the barber asked why she was begging when she had a piece of land and a cow along with another old woman. Our foolish old woman narrated the story. The barber smiled and told her to soak the wrap in water when handing it over to the other one in the night and not to give any fodder to the cow and rather yell at her. He further advised her to take out the roots when the paddy was young or the maize was not ready.

The advice had the result. The clever old woman shivered and shivered in the night. The cow used to kick her when she would try to milk her. The crops failed and she starved, too. She saw that there were people who were more cunning than she. And the villagers decided that there should be an arrangement that was more just to the two women.

This is a tale from Bangladesh by Roy Choudhury and Chandra Pranab. This story, when you first hear it, seems to be about inequality, injustice, and the righting of wrongs. And as always, there’s so much more. The first thing that jumps out is a conversation about partnership. In this case, the abuse of power, the inequality that can sometimes occur in what is assumed to be an even collaborative agreement.

I remember an old friend in Ireland who made and lost millions in his entrepreneurial adventures. One night, when we were walking back from the pub, I asked him, so what would be your best advice for a new business owner? And he said, without hesitation, you should know the partners are for dancing. He’d been burned several times and swore to never go into partnership again. Whether or not you’re dancing, it’s definitely a good idea to make sure that in a partnership, both parties have equal say and that they’re working towards a common goal.

I love that the foolish woman finally asked for help. She seeks advice and insight to understand her situation. This is always a good idea in business. No matter how smart you are, you can’t see what you can’t see as you run your business. Having a mentor or coach who can help you see the dark corners of your business, help bring experience and insight into the workings of your world, can help you avoid mistakes and make better decisions.

This story also speaks to the power of long term thinking rather than short term gain. The clever woman is only looking for short term gain as she tricks the foolish woman again and again. But ultimately, that’s not sustainable. Once the foolish woman gets advice, she can show that if they work against each other, they both starve. That’s an important lesson to learn. We need to work together for mutual gain in all that we do in our businesses. That’s the only path to create sustainable, profitable business.

The story points to ethics and how important it is to behave ethically in your business. Clearly, this so called clever woman has questionable ethics while the foolish one suffers. And the lesson on the surface level is behave ethically. Do the right thing. But on a deeper level, I think this story speaks to the common trope that women can’t work together. There are so many books and movies that illustrate the toxic relationship that seems almost inevitable with women. I hate that. And at the same time, I’ve experienced it on several occasions where I had women bosses who were horrendous.

I love the relationship that’s portrayed in Ted Lasso, where two powerful women are the best of friends and work to support each other and their individual growth. This is the truth of many relationships between women in business. It’s time that our stories reflect this. The final line was interesting, and the villagers decided that there should be an arrangement that was more just to the two women.

It could mean that the village recognized the wrongdoing of the clever woman and moved in to protect the foolish woman. Or perhaps it’s a broader understanding that what’s bad for one will ultimately be bad for all. It could also suggest that the village recognizes that they are also responsible for the conditions whereby there was not enough for both women. The two women should not have been asked to share one coat, one cow, and one piece of land. So it’s not just that the clever woman took advantage, but that society, the culture, was culpable, too.

In this way, the story asks us, what do we allow with our silence? What conditions do we create or perpetuate by not speaking up against wrongdoing? What is our role when it’s clear to all that injustice is being served? Perhaps this is a call to activism, to noticing what is right and what is wrong in our world, and figuring out a way to fight.

I’ve talked about this with my kids many times. What do we do when we see someone being bullied or when we see something that just shouldn’t be the way it is? It’s not easy for them to push aside what others think or what might be the easier path. Ultimately, our silence serves no one. It’s our voice and standing up for what we believe in that makes for a better world.

I’m Lisa Bloom, and you’ve been listening to Once Upon a Business. You can find out more about me at That’s Once Upon a Business is part of the Mirasee FM podcast network, which also includes such shows as Course Lab and Making It. To catch the great episodes that are coming up on Once Upon a Business, please like and follow us on Mirasee FM’s YouTube channel or your favorite podcast player.

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