I live outside of town (for those who grew up in a rural setting, it would be a stretch to say we live in the “country” — although for those who live in an urban setting, they would think so — lots of trees and animals, and we live on a dirt road). And I love to take walks in the woods. This morning I hiked around in the early morning sun, through some surprisingly thick woods and undergrowth. And it “got me to thinking”.
For many of us, our daily lives are quite segregated from nature. Hence, we tend to miss many of the foundational lessons we can learn by making some basic observations (and observations that would seem self-evident to most of our ancestors).
- Growth occurs naturally when necessary conditions are met. In nature this includes light, nutrients, and water. In business, core conditions include customers who have the ability to pay, the goods or services you are providing to others, getting the word out about your product (marketing), and collecting payment for your product (there are probably more I am missing). Interestingly, in both nature and business, the lack or absence of one core ingredient means eventual death.
- Controlled growth produces more fruit. When all of the necessary conditions are present, and especially in times of abundance, there actually can be too much growth. Pruning, cutting out unwanted growth, planning and planting desired plants, taking out weeds, thinning out plants to provide more room, light and nutrients for selected plants — all are mechanisms for controlling growth. In business, too many products or services offered, or not being able to manage large surges in demand can actually hinder the company’s ability to maximize their profits.
- Unrestrained growth leads to chaos and little beneficial results. Have you ever seen a tree or plant that has grown for years without any management of its growth? They are typically unattractive, not well organized, and don’t produce as much fruit as a tree which has been systematically pruned and thinned. Similarly, businesses that just grow everywhere and in every direction possible become difficult to manage, and the resources needed to be productive (time, energy, human capital, financial capital) are squandered in helter-skelter fashion rather than in a focused direction.
- Healthy production comes from a combination of planning, preparation, hard work (at the right time), monitoring, maintenance, and long-term effort. Contrary to some business books (usually in the sales & marketing field), there is no one solution that will make a company successful. Rather, healthy businesses — like healthy gardens — require a combination of planning & preparation, long hours (at times), monitoring what is actually happening and taking corrective action. Generally speaking, both in nature and in business, there is no quick pathway to success. Rather, a series of actions over a long time period lead to healthy production.
- For good results to occur, challenges, lack of resources and destructive elements must be dealt with successfully. To make plants and trees grow, it is not just a matter of providing what they need (focusing on the positive). Healthy plants come from dealing with the threat of destructive elements as well — insects & pests, being eaten by animals, fungus or mold or blight, and a harsh environment (drought, extreme heat or cold). In the same way, focusing on one’s “business plan” without taking into consideration the risks that may be encountered can lead to failure. Unforeseen competitors, changes in tax law or governmental rules & regulations, or a harsh economic environment — the lack of available financial capital, the lack of adequate human capital and expertise — can tank an otherwise healthy business.
I am sure there are other lessons and metaphors from nature that apply to business-life. Take a minute and reflect (or better yet, go on a walk, observe and ponder). I’d love to hear your thoughts.