I look at business in the same way that I look at nature.
In our four unique seasons there are abundant elements at play as the world around us heeds the call for transformation. The anticipation of spring, the reverie of summer, the falling back of autumn, and the necessary respite of nature that we call winter--all are a manifestation of the natural flow of things.
In nature, the most striking manifestation of natural flow I can think of is a flower. A flower begins as a seed, and the stalk reaches for the sky in the sun, unaware of obstacles or difficulties--it just keeps growing, morphing into a bud. Then like quiet fireworks, this bud, so full of possibility, finally opens, revealing its potential to the world. But the flower cannot live forever so, after a time, the petals begin to fall. The stalk starts to wither, and the seeds fall from the flower onto the earth, enabling the cycle to begin anew.
In the beginning of a successful business, you start with a seed, maybe the seed of an idea for a new business venture or a brilliant niche sector. The "seed" then goes through its initial growth stage, overcoming obstacles, as it continues to flourish. Then the "flower" begins to grow. This expansion stage continues, until the company gets to the ultimate tipping point of victory, namely, profit. The problem is that we never know when that tipping point is going to arrive. If we did, we could prepare for what comes next.
Here are five ideas to keep in mind:
1. The reality is that the "flower" does not live forever. It has to run the course of the natural evolution of business. To use the analogy of the flower, the "petals" have to drop off and die. The seeds must then become the catalyst for new ideas and new growth, in order for the next business model to grow and flourish.
2. Many companies get caught up in an unrealistic, perpetual growth phase, and they believe it will go on forever. The harsh reality is that it almost never does. Even the most long-standing, successful companies will tell you that, as time went on, they had to rethink, reorganize, and retool their ideas and business models in order to remain relevant in the marketplace.
3. The expectation from shareholders and management is that they must have continual growth year after year. When this happens, the mounting pressure for a burgeoning bottom line can become intolerable, affecting those responsible for the bottom line in ways you can't imagine. And yet most times, those in positions of leadership in these companies try to take it on and cope with it all in the name of profits, whether it makes sense or not.
We have all seen the disastrous repercussions that occur when man has tried to "push" agriculture or the environment. When we interfere with the natural order of things, we eventually pay the price. It goes against nature. Companies that consistently propel themselves forward against these "laws" could be headed for trouble, and may eventually lose their way.
4. In order for new things to emerge, there has to be a slowing down or some form of a stabilization or regression phase. It's completely unrealistic to anticipate expansion year after year, whether it is in growth or revenue. There is a "season" for maturity, decline, and re-growth in every business. It doesn't have to mean the total demise of a company once that cycle starts to wane. Even within the company there may be product lines that enjoy success for a time and then have to "die," replaced by new, more relevant products or innovations that may be more in tune with consumer trends.
5. How do you effectively deal with a decline or renewal phase? Ask better questions and get better answers. Keep listening and do less talking. Look at what competitors are doing within your industry and get even more inspiration by getting out of your industry and observe what others are doing. While it's essential to be confident in your company's future, change is always imminent so be curiously aware, and humble in the notion that you can learn to do better.