“In a gentle way, you can shake the world.”  – Gandhi

Business Through the Lens of Permaculture:
Principle 9 – Using Small and Slow Solutions

[This is the ninth installment in a 12-week series exploring Business Through the Lens of Permaculture. Using the principles of permaculture, a design framework that brings greater connection and understanding of the way elements within a system work together, we will undergo a study about how each of these principles can be applied to the systems of business. This series will focus specifically on small business, where an owner’s way of working impacts every facet of the business.]

In a world of shiny object syndrome and jaw-dropping results created and touted in short time frames, there is a quiet and mighty power to this week’s principle.

The business world has a lot of achievement syndrome. Especially where business, social enterprise and visionary leaders come together, there’s a lot to do, not enough time to do it and the fate of the world is at stake. Non-profits experience this a lot, too.

Rushing into getting stuff done is a recipe for disaster. If you want to leave a legacy and make lasting change, the sustainability of a business is key.

Principle nine is all about small and slow solutions.

In a world of faster, more, now, and “we want it done yesterday”, this principle is a breath of fresh air and a reminder to slow down, make smart decisions and allow all parts of a business to build on themselves over time.

Start small. Don’t take on too much. Do one thing at a time.

Changes build on one another. Integrate them over time. Leverage the changes that arise.

In all of this is a call to remember the how that lives behind the way things get done. How you do anything is how you do everything. The how needs to be done in a way that is in integrity with the end result. There are no shortcuts.

I’ve seen a lot of business owners work with high level coaches to jump start their growth like it’s some kind of silver bullet. (Heck, I’ve done this. I don’t recommend the outcomes.) That doesn’t take the place of doing the work. In fact, a lot of people rush into hiring coaches because it’s “what you should do as a smart business owner.” There seems to be a frenzied rush towards an unknown finish line that is consistently a moving target.

Small and slow solutions is the reminder that not everything needs to be done tomorrow. It’s about watching for and avoiding burnout. It’s the extra encouragement to do things the right way and not go for the quick fix or the shortcut. Your own natural pace is the right pace and is exactly how quickly the business needs to grow.

You’ve probably watched different plants grow. Bamboo shoots up quickly and grows 3-5 feet per year. Fruit trees often take 3-6 years to come into their fruit producing capability. Sunflowers, corn and tomatoes all have their usual cycle of growth over a season. It’s not possible to make these grow faster. There are basic inputs needed and one of the big ones is time. These plants all have their own timing and so do you.

Remember, organic growth is sustainable growth. You can’t growth hack your way to a faster growing tomato and the same applies to your business.

You’ve got to chop wood and carry water. There’s no way around it. It’s gotta be done.

If we think about a business example like a plant, programs or product launches can be perennials. They don’t need to be planted every year. Yields can be slower at first, but they build over time. Your program or product launch is the same way. You built it over time and the yields increase season after season. You don’t have to replant everything a second time or go through the research about where to plant it, what the soil needs to look like or the sun or climate. Every year you do have to tend it, water it and make sure it has what it needs, but you don’t have to put in the energy to plant it every season from scratch.

Shorter programs or offerings can be like annuals. You plant them and they exist for a season. This might be a workshop, a flash sale, or a one-time event. There’s a certain amount of preparation that happens – finding where the plant will live, preparing the soil, doing the planting and then tending and watering. Once the season has passed, the plant will die and the same process needs to be repeated. It’s smart to think about what in your business are perennials and what are annuals.

As you use small and slow solutions, you will be more likely to notice patterns in the business, within yourself and in the larger world. This can lead to more effective business designs and ability to respond to opportunities to serve and grow.

Smaller and slower systems are easier to maintain and can be more effective in utilizing resources and creating desired outcomes. When you’re not running or trying to produce at top speed 24/7, you can think about utilizing resources such as bartering, time banks, or sharing resources with other business owners.

Moving slowly, you can design a business system that contributes to the overall functioning of the business over time. You can think about creating evergreen resources that maintain their value to the customers you serve. You can identify better ways of creating your offerings, whether that means being more efficient with raw materials, leveraging your time in smarter ways, or learning to use your energy more wisely. Moving slowly might allow you to build better foundations and connections with business owners who offer complementary services. With the combined network effect of your connections, it creates a steady stream of well-fit customers who can truly benefit from your offerings. The work you’re doing benefits businesses beyond just yours and you benefit from the work that others are doing as well. It’s the business version of a symbiotic relationship.

Let’s think about small and slow solutions in the context of your work for a moment:

  • What are ways you see yourself and your business benefiting from small and slow solutions?
  • Are there any areas where you feel like you’re trying to rush?
  • Are there places you could simplify and slow down to bring greater ability to observe what is actually going on so you can be more effective in your design?

Next week, we’re exploring how to use and value diversity within a business system. We’ll think about how this applies to the core facets of your business functions and how to use this principle to grow your business sustainably.

I hope you’ll think about the connections between these principles and the way businesses operate, so you can draw new parallels and your own connections to the framework. Share your insights in the comments. This is a topic in its nascent stages, so we are on the edge of creating a new understanding. It’s an exciting place to be in and there is much to discover. Let’s do it together.

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