On National Public Radio Monday I happened to catch an interview with Charles Handy. Handy writes about organizations and organizational behavior. He told of a client of his. That client describes his organization as a "Bonsai Organization."
Should yours become a Bonsai organization?
Big isn't always better. We identify closely with small, family size groups (say no more than 12). Perhaps our organizations would be more effective if they remained about that size.
Think how much more valuable a beautiful Bonsai tree is than its full size cousin. Think how much more connected your employees would be in a super-small business than in a mega-corporation.
Bonsai trees and Bonsai organizations share some attributes in common:
They are perfect miniature versions of their bigger relatives - perfect in every detail but size.
They are elegantly beautiful.
It takes years to grow a beautiful specimen.
Bonsai trees are kept small by confining them in very small pots, and by precise and consistent pruning of both branches and leaves. Bonsai organizations are kept small by confining them in very small niches, and by precise and consistent pruning of both products/services and infrastructure.
Both can be vigorous and valuable.
As the Bonsai tree and its pot form one harmonious whole, so do the Bonsai organization and its niche.
It is extremely easy to over or under-nourish either one, because the pot/niche leaves little margin for error.
"But," you say, "I want something really big to run. One Bonsai organization won't keep me challenged and busy."
In that case, Handy suggests, build a collection of Bonsai organizations. Grow and tend as many little companies as you want, each in a different niche (pot). Tend and train each one carefully. When you have time, energy and talent to grow a new one, add it to your forest of Bonsai.
What's your strategy? Are you hoping to grow your organization into a much bigger version of what it is today? Or should you consider keeping it elegantly small, and growing by starting other businesses?