aLearning Blog

Online Learning for Trade Associations

Learning from the Amish

Posted by Ellen on May 10, 2010

My attraction to the Amish goes back a long way and is fairly complex — maybe it’s an admiration of a lifestyle that demands skills I’ve never excelled at (cooking, sewing, gardening are among the responsibilities women shoulder in among the Amish) or their aversion to “modern” things like electricity and cars. Maybe their ability to live hard lives comfortably is what inspires me. It’s hard to say.

In “Why Amish Businesses Don’t Fail,” Geoff Williams summarizes research by Elizabethtown College professor Donald Kraybill, who found that 95% of Amish businesses succeed past that critical 5-year mark. This is far above the national average, which “hovers just under 50%.”

When you consider that most Amish attend school through the eighth grade then quit to devote themselves to families, farms, and businesses, this accomplishment is even more noteworthy. We’d all be hard-pressed to find a better example of the power of informal learning.

Being true to what they are good at and know is key to their success, reports Williams. Focusing on quality workmanship (whether it’s furniture or baked goods or any other product) has always been their trademark (I can vouch for this, as much of the furniture we had was Amish-made — beautiful and durable!).  

Cooperation and hard work are ingrained in Amish culture. Competition — at least to us outsiders — doesn’t exist. Communities thrive because the focus is on “us,” not on “me” or “my family” or “my business.”

“Networking through Facebook doesn’t exactly have the same community-building pull as teaming up with neighbors to build a barn…” says Erik Wesner, author of Success Made Simple: An Inside Look at Why Amish Businesses Thrive.

Is your association focused enough on

  • providing what you know and do best?
  • making sure everything you do is of the highest quality?
  • cooperation rather than competition?
  • working hard enough for your members?
  • finding ways BEYOND the Internet to increase member involvement?
  • creating a fertile environment for informal learning?

Or are you too caught up in trying to save or make money? Too obsessed with how social networking can increase attendance at events to expand or improve your products and services?

What can you learn from what the Amish are doing right to increase your level of success?

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