Seasons and Cycles

Whether nature or business, we are governed by the need to adapt to cycles. We welcome each one, knowing there are things we need to do to profit from the next cycle.

Much as we might like it to be different, there is no perpetual summer, and we can’t go from spring to spring without doing the work in autumn and winter.

So why, I wonder do we think business is different? That with a bit of twiddling, we can live perpetually in summer?

The collapse of Thomas Cook is as iconic as it was inevitable. It’s easy to see in retrospect that it needed to recognise that it was autumn ten years ago, and that it was in winter five years ago, but the investors wanted to wear their shorts by the pool, and the managers, instead of telling truth to power, did their best to provide, probably knowing it was futile, but hey, it wasn’t their business……..

Itinerant gardeers can move elsewhere, but the land isn’t going anywhere, and nor are those who value it.

Right now, both meteorologically and economically, winter is coming. We cannot continue to sit by the pool as the climate changes, inequality increases and societies fracture under the pressure.

Perpetual growth on a planet with finite resources is an oxymoron, and their is nothing wrong (in fact everything good) to be done if we stop taxing the system in pursuit of the unneccessary for a while.

It’s a time to prune, dividends as well as trees. To sit together round a warm fire and plan for spring. We cannot make it happen faster, but we can be ready when it comes.

Winter is a season, not failure, and not a problem

Potbound.

It’s Spring. On the one hand I love it – the end of winter, renewal, growth everywhere. On the other hand, it can overwhelm me. Everything grows at once, and there is that sudden rush as we seek to bring our gardens under control. Despite the regularity of Spring, it still takes me by surprise. I had become used to Winter.

It strikes me that in reality, businesses are much the same – and that we can learn a lot from Gardeners.

Businesses have seasons. They sprout from an idea, grow, thrive and then wither.

Gardeners in tune with nature benefit. They do not try to ignore the seasons, they work with them. They variously take cuttings, grow seedlings, graft plants onto new rootstock. Create hybrids.

They fell, prune, and transplant.

They know how to look after the soil.

They know when to harvest, and when to plant.

So why is it in business, we don’t do the same? We often expect our idea to thrive as though it’s always Spring. We let the business grow, but in effect keep it in the same pot – a mixture of products, markets and locations, amplified by processes, protocols and the fertiliser of efficiency. – and the danger is, it becomes potbound.

As the business grows, so do the people in it – ideas, ambitions, confidence, networks. This growth needs room.

But far too many of us have let  let our businesses become potbound. People and ideas find nowhere to grow, so they wither whilst the main plant absorbs all the nourishment, until, inevitably, Autumn arrives.

I’ve often wondered why we are so resistant to letting businesses die back.

I guess there are lots of structural reasons – prime amongst which are that investors and bankers don’t like the idea of a pause in growth, even though that is necessary to gather the resources for the next stage of growth. As owners and employees we become dependent on the produce. We got used to perpetual credit and have become very poor at harvesting and storing so we can overwinter. We fell out of the idea of rhythms and cycles. Which is a mistake.

Generally speaking, we’re nowhere near as good at managing business cycles as¬†gardeners are at managing the seasons.

In the industrial era, the main nutrients for our business was capital and fixed assets – machines and offices.They were easy to measure, difficult to move and could be kept in the asset register.They could be hothoused. They were difficult to transplant successfully – it was an expensive and risky process.

In the connection economy, the main nutrients for our businesses is talent – and that’s as mobile as dandelion seeds. It will take root anywhere conditions permit. It’s difficult to measure, and cannot be owned.

Traditional businesses are struggling in the connection economy. Everything they do is replicable. They are unwieldy, and have to resort to forcing growth through extracting every ounce of cash, even though the peak of their cycle has passed. They become hostages to the expectation of continual Spring.

Connection economy businesses on the other hand are flexible, and can find the space to grow because they are mobile. They experiment, hybridise and adapt. They can follow the seasons. There are lots of places in them for talent to grow, and talent has a choice.

After seven years of economic winter, Spring has arrived.

Time to cultivate your business.

If you want to know more about helping businesses thrive throughout the seasons, talk to us at the GrowHouse.