April 2011
The Corporation as a Forest of Bonsais

When we think of small, we tend to think intimate.

In working with bonsai, we share an experience of intimacy. Something about the plant’s size affords this intimacy. We are able to grasp the whole.

Businesses these days are finding they can be influential, make a substantial contribution, and yet still remain intimately sized. Technology helps here. So does forced austerity.

A company’s ecosystem changes when it reaches a certain size, a tipping point, to borrow a popular phrase. If businesses are not careful in managing growth, they can lose their connection with, well, most everything – their mission, their employees and their customers.

Listen to your colleagues reflect on how they “lost something along the way” as they rode the trajectory from start-up to monolith. Yes, they gained something too. But what was gained was not denominated in the same currency as what was lost.

What then, you ask, is the place of large corporations? Don’t they have a place in the bonsai world?

Of course they do. But maybe we can grow corporations differently, more deliberately. If we place close connection at the heart of our relationship with co-workers and suppliers, then we’ll structure our work environments to serve this connection.

Perhaps then we can grow corporations to become, in the words of Charles Handy, “a forest of bonsai’s.”