The Promise of a Rose Garden for Your Business

Think of streamlining your business as you would prune a rose garden. As with pruning roses, cutting back could make your business stronger in the long run!  With so many cutbacks, retail shops closing and job losses, I found this horticultural analogy by Arie de Geus in his book The Living Company quite profound and thought-provoking.  De Geus pioneered scenario planning at Royal Dutch/Shell so is clearly a strategic thinker.


Book Extract

“Rose gardeners…face a choice every spring: how to prune our roses. …The long-term fate of a rose garden depends on this decision.   If you want to have the largest and most glorious roses of the neighbourhood, you will prune hard. You will reduce each plant to a maximum of three stems. …This represents a policy of low tolerance and tight control.  You force the plant to make the maximum use of its available resources, by putting them into the rose’s ‘core business’.

However, if this is an unlucky year (late frost, deer, green fly invasion) you may lose the main stems or the whole plant! Pruning hard is a dangerous policy in an unpredictable environment.  Thus, if you (are) in a spot where nature may play tricks on you…you may opt for a policy of high tolerance.  You will leave more stems on the plant. …You’ll never have the biggest roses…but you have a much-enhanced chance of having roses every year.  You also achieve a gradual renewal of the plan. …In short…tolerant pruning…achieves two ends:

  1. It makes it easier to cope with unexpected environmental changes
  2. It leads to a continuous…restructuring of the plant.

The policy of tolerance admittedly wastes resources…the extra buds drain away nutrients …from the main stem.   But in an unpredictable environment, this policy of tolerance makes the rose healthier. …Tolerance of internal weakness, ironically, allows the rose to be stronger in the long run.”


Does Your Business Need a Prune?

Perhaps it’s time to rethink the rush to drastically streamline businesses and organisations. We could be throwing out healthy potential growth with the dead wood.


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