Bonsai and business.

I love a bonsai tree. I am fascinated by its beauty. Can’t tell you exactly why.

Maybe it was because of Mr Miyagi and the way he styled those bonsai’s in the first karate kid movie. Remember the famous quote? Daniel: “But how do I know if my picture’s the right one?” Miyagi: “If come from inside you, always right one.” Also: “Close your eyes, concentrate. Think only tree…” 

Or maybe because of my love for Asian culture in general. Although the roots of bonsai go back to China, to me it’s one of the symbols of Japanese culture. It reflects the focus, dedication and tradition of Japan and Japanese people.

Or maybe because I find miniaturization so intriguing . One of my earliest childhood memories was that really cool train track I built, with all those details. Still today, I really admire those big train model displays, with complete landscapes.

Anyway, bonsai is a real art. From the first growth, the pruning, the cultivation, the shaping, the styling….every step has its particularities, which require some level of knowledge and experience. It is a never ending journey, but the result is in many cases magnificent! Take a look at the most beautiful bonsai trees in the world….:( ….Isn’t that unbelievable?

Reading and learning about bonsai has thought me that there are many similarities between growing a business and growing a bonsai. And that maybe we can learn from the art of bonsai, how to solve certain dilemmas in business.

The most difficult part in the whole bonsai process, is actually the first phase. Growing a tree from seeds or cuttings to a so called ‘prebonsai’ requires patience and skill. The critical point being trimming to roots to fit into a smaller container. In the beginning, it is important to let the roots grow in a larger environment and wait as long as you can to start trimming the roots. Strong roots are essential for a healthy and strong tree. So in the beginning you need more soil, more fertilization, more attention. In that phase the tree will only grow slow in height. It is only after you start trimming the roots, that this will accelerate.

We have 3 divisions in our company. One of them, I3-Technologies is a startup, the other two are established enterprises.

My experience now is that growing a startup is far more difficult than nurturing or running an established company. A good idea alone, does not make a strong company. You need resources, focus and attention. Actually, comparatively even more resources, than in a scale up or established environment. Because you have to have the patience to wait as long as you can to start trimming the roots. The more “soil” you have, the easier it is to wait. Soil in a company is basically capital. The more capital you can raise, with shareholders that have the patience to let roots grow, the easier it gets.

But capital will always be limited. So at a certain moment, you need “height”: the tree has to grow, the company has to get in a “scale up” phase. Therefore roots must be trimmed: in a company that means that the strategy needs to be more defined: Which products? Which markets? Which channels?

Which is the most difficult phase of all. One in which if you make a mistake, you end up with a weaker tree. Once the tree is grown up, it is about trimming the branches…..If you make mistakes there, the consequences are far less important, because as long as you have strong roots and a strong trunk, your tree will survive.

I know it drives especially our financial people crazy. I’m trying to postpone the trimming as long as I can. But our ‘soil’ is limited, and if your job is to manage capital and make sure we don’t run out, it’s a frustrating period. Not only for financial people by the way, but in that ‘root growing’ period, you need flexibility and creativity from everybody: roots are not growing in one direction. It is a period in which things are changing rapidly, were you need to experiment and try to understand where the market and your customers are going.

We are constantly looking for that balance, that tipping point where it becomes inevitable to tighten up our strategy. Together with my team, the best team in the world (did I say that yet?), helping me to watch the soil, to see where the roots are going, anxious to start trimming them, tighten up the strategy and making the company grow.

And so, I’m looking at my prebonsai, trying to make sure the roots are strong enough for my ambition: growing the most beautiful bonsai in the world.

In my next blog I will talk about the same theme, but in a different light. Hope you enjoyed this one already…