By Adrian Swinscoe, Director, RARE Business

I read a great post by Tim Ferris called Why Grow? and Other Wisdom from 37Signals the other day and it got me to thinking. Tim talked about growth and how it always gets confused with an increase in size, whether employees, turnover, office space, number of locations etc. I completely agree. Growth is about what is right for the business, the owner, the managers, the leaders, the market, the circumstances, the customers etc.

It then occurred to me that business growth is a lot like growing a bonsai tree.

If you are not familiar with Bonsai growing, it is the art of growing miniature replicas of trees in containers. It originated in China and Japan hundreds of years. It does not involve growing genetic miniatures of existing trees but rather growing small trees from regular stock and seeds. The Bonsai method uses different techniques like pruning, potting and repotting, root reduction, defoliation, leaf-snipping and grafting to produce small trees that are replicas of their full-sized, mature, free cousins in nature.

How can we apply this to business? Here’s my take on why there are lessons from this ancient discipline for business growth:

- Bonsai are small but they are beautifully formed. In business, growth should be about what you and your team want NOT what the market or your peers dictate is your potential. You are in control.

- Bonsai growers always have an end design in mind. This design, therefore, requires deliberate choices by their grower to be made about how and why they should grow. If they push too hard then they can damage the tree and its potential. This is the same for business.

- Despite being small they will always have the potential to grow in size. Despite the fact that they spend most of their lives in pots and have their natural growth inhibited they still have the inherent ability to grow into a full sized specimen if taken out of their pot, planted in the wild and allowed to grow free. This, however, like all things in life comes with its own risks. So, it comes down to choice and control and what you want to achieve, similar to how we view our businesses, ambitions and circumstances.

Take a look at your business and ask yourself: What are you creating?

Adrian Swinscoe is Director of RARE Business - adrian@rarebusiness.co.uk


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