You’ve been there, on your worst days: muttering (yelling?) the phrase “Burn it all down” about your business.
We’re here to tell you we think you should.
The college I attended, in a small town in Minnesota, is home to one of the largest Prairie restoration projects in the country. There was a good stretch of time when I lived in a community next to the nearly thousand acres of land. Our house was further from the main campus, and the last stop before the woods. It wasn’t odd to come downstairs on a Saturday morning to find a random student passed out on the couch in our living room, called in from the Minnesota cold after a late night traipse. They’d receive a cup of coffee before, head likely still throbbing, being sent on their way.
Prairie ecosystems, like many others, need fire to thrive and spur regrowth. An adaptation honed over thousands of years, the scorched earth left behind from a burn brings much-needed nutrients to the soil, that ultimately feed the unaffected root structures below the earth.
Prairies also adapted fire as a defense agains the larger ecosystems and invasive species that would otherwise takeover. Forests that would otherwise spread and takeover, or plant species that are not adapted to the ecosystem intent on strangling the grasses. (Bison were also a integral part of the prairie ecosystem, their grazing clipping some grasses, not others, and their manure helping to spread seeds. The college has experimented with cows and goats as mock-bison grazers. Not sure if it was the unruly bison or the unruly college students that made a visiting herd an impossibility.)
Are you picking up on the obvious metaphor here? Small businesses possess the advantage of nimbleness; the smaller the ship, the easier the turn, and the easier to create— and control — a burn.
I see a lot of businesses that pick up weeds, overgrowth, and start to letter some forests overshadow their ecosystem.
Overgrowth shows up as many misalignments: Overwhelm. Iffy cash flow. Lack of Profit. Persistent exhaustion or head spinning.
We don’t have good models in our culture for letting things go, grieving, composting, or moving on.
Resilient ecosystems, just like resilient businesses, depend on cycles of regeneration; old growth must die off to make way for the new.
Sometimes you don’t need to burn it all down, as much as letting the old decompose. In the Hoh Rain Forest this past summer, I noticed old fallen trees everywhere, with baby hemlocks growing out off the fallen trunks. One of the infographics noted that the symbiotic relationships between these fallen, decomposing trees, and the baby hemlocks was essential to the growth of new trees for the ecosystem. Decomposition leads to compost, which leads to more nutrients for growth.
We often fear failure in letting pieces of our business go. That an ending or calling it quits on a particular product or struggling revenue stream means we should throw in the towel, or that these endings somehow reflect on our personal character or self worth.
What if instead, we knew that our business would undergo cycles of regeneration? That in order to continue to grow, we would have to let things die? That endings reflect a natural cycle instead of a blemish on our self-worth?
So go ahead. Let something go. Grieve it. Allow a piece of your business to become fertile ground for the next phase.