#2 Shape trumps size.

Shape matters more than size, in bonsai as in business.

When growing a bonsai, one starts with an inner sense of the shape, which the mature plant will achieve (call it the “vision” of a business). This shape is in proportion to several factors, including the trunk size, the span of the main branches, and the size of the container. Proportion matters here.

In growing a business, the goal is not a maximum size. Rather, the goal is to create an entity that contributes to society, as the self-described social ecologist, Peter Drucker, reminded us. “Too big to fail” remains a lethal reminder that neglecting proportion can yield fatal societal consequences.

In my line of business, a wise colleague once warned me that “something unbalanced happens” once you surpass $10 million in annual sales. We found out he was right. With the larger size and ensuing growth in staff, we lost “touch” with our clients and partners.

I have since pruned the size of our business. We remain big enough to secure preferred pricing from our suppliers, yet small enough to remain intimate with our stakeholders, all while keeping with the vision of our company. Size is monitored in service to the shape we want our business to take.

Vision, as well as market potential, determines the size of our enterprise. A large market does not mean your business must try to maximize its portion of that market. Not if doing so erodes your values and your vision.