Bennis Inc. | The Necessary Slow Burn of Business Growth
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The Necessary Slow Burn of Business Growth

The first Monday of each month, I dust off a favorite post from the Bennis Inc Blog archives and give you another chance to enjoy the wit and wisdom that’s been shared. Enjoy this month’s treasure – and if it inspires you – be sure to share it with family and friends!


The Necessary Slow Burn of Business GrowthConsider this. Each spring it’s common practice to burn the tall grasses of the prairie. The reasons for this man made fire are those to benefit the prairie and it’s natural habitat – to remove old growth, put nutrients back into the soil and promote new growth and abundance. The prairie needs this fire to exist. As reckless and destructive as this once seemed to me as a child, I’ve come to understand and appreciate the prairie’s need for this slow, controlled burn. But now as an adult, reexamining this yearly ritual made me question another aspect of these prairie fires.

Why not just use gasoline, light a quick blaze and take care of the whole field at once? Why does it need to be a slow and smoldering fire – a process that seems to be so needlessly drawn out?

The answer to this question is actually quite strategic and far from needless. The slow, controlled burn of these tall prairie grasses is necessary for achieving all the ecological benefits that it does. Gasoline would absolutely ruin the soil and prevent these tall grasses from ever growing again. And a large wildfire would wreak havoc on other parts of the ecosystem (not to mention holds the potential to easily burn out of control). So why am I choosing to tell you so much about these prairie fires? It’s because I see an important lesson on life and business building within these flames – a lesson that speaks to both patience and strategy.

Letting it burn (slowly)

For anyone who has ever attempted to build a business, the process of growth is unpredictable and unstable at best. We want to believe, that like any model growth chart illustrates, our business will grow with dramatic spikes until we blast off the chart. But this is neither common nor sustainable for 99% of businesses out there. Instead, like a prairie fire, the healthiest and most lasting business growth is a steady smoldering that inches onward day by day. I define this as healthy growth because it’s growth that blazes a new trail while giving us enough time to stay right in tow. We control it; it does not control us. This is also the type of growth that strengthens a business as oppose to a wildfire which could burn it all down. Most importantly and much like the prairie fires, this slow, controlled burn weeds out the old while laying the rich foundation for future growth. It’s a change that moves at the pace of evolution, and it should be our goal to evolve patiently and strategically as such.

Avoiding the temptation to rush

With technology at our fingertips and our society of ever-connectedness, our accessibility to “gasoline” is endless. This causes a great temptation to rush the process of the slow burn just because we have the means to do so. But as ecologists have proven and stressed, this quick and fast method is not always beneficial, and sometimes harmful, depending upon what you’re trying to achieve. For the slow burn of business growth, you’re trying to achieve much more than a burnt and barren field. You want to preserve the ground and burn only what is necessary. Gasoline won’t allow you to do this. We have to avoid the temptation and let things progress on their own. Instead, we often want to ignite the fire with things like an overkill of paid advertising (this is often a waste of precious capital in the beginning) or gimmicky deals (this often pulls in the wrong client base). Such “shoot-from-the-hip” strategies may produce big flames for display, but at some point these flames will cause destruction or someone will get burned. As I’ve mentioned before, such growth is neither sustainable nor beneficial in the long run.

In life or in business, have you ever personally experienced the temptation to rush a critical process? Maybe this is a process of growth, a process of healing or a process of change. While it’s tempting to want to overcome these uncomfortable and even painful moments in life quickly, rushing the process can prevent us from receiving all of the benefits they’re meant to bring. Learn to appreciate the slow fires we have lit and know that they are with the purpose and intent to make us stronger and more abundant.

Stephanie Shirley

stephanie@bennisinc.com