What Bonsai Trees Can Teach Us About Endurance
If well cared for, a bonsai tree will live 50 to 100 years longer than its creator’s lifespan. Yet the average lifespan of a Fortune 500 company dropped from 67 years in the 1920s to 15 years today, according to Richard Foster, a lecturer at the Yale School of Management. Just imagine what a Bonsai Master in the C-Suite could do to change that dynamic.
Ivan Watters, curator of the Chicago Botanic Garden bonsai collection, remarked that this ancient Asian art of creating miniature trees “requires a high degree of commitment, time-wise. Bonsai are like pets or small children and require a lot of attention and care. They also teach the development of patience, because you have to think in the long term, how will they look in 10, 15, 20 years?”
(Translation: Think and act strategically.)
John Yoshio Naka, an American horticulturist, teacher, author and master bonsai cultivator once advised, “Listen to the tree...it tells you where it wants to go!”
(Translation: Be open to another way.)
And then there’s this pithy wisdom from an old Japanese proverb:
When a bonsai stops growing, you know it’s dead.
(Translation: You’re no longer in business.)
Every year my husband and I would take our son to The Philadelphia Flower Show and he always made a beeline to the bonsai exhibit. We visited there again this week where I took this photo of a 59 year old bonsai next to its fledgling counterpart on the left.
But I knew better than to walk out with another (pricey) bonsai tree.
The name “bonsai” literally means “plant in a tray.” We’ve got plenty of empty, beautiful ceramic trays at home but the trees planted in them didn’t survive (we affectionately referred to our son’s collection as “everbrowns”).
So why do these symbols of harmony, peace, order of thoughts, balance, and all that is good in nature, so often atrophy long before their time?
For the same reasons that once-vibrant businesses, careers and dreams do.
Lack of patience, commitment and careful observation.
Loss of appetite for risk or adventure.
Waning creativity and passion.
A non-nurturing environment.
Which brings us back full-circle to the Richard Foster Yale study. On average, a Standard & Poor’s (S&P) company is now being replaced every two weeks, and Foster estimates that 75 percent of the S&P 500 firms will be replaced by new firms by 2027. Just 10 short years away.
Might be time to onboard Mr. Miyagi of Karate Kid fame. He taught his bonsai-tending protégé Daniel san a-thing-or-two about mastering the vision thing:
"Close your eyes, concentrate. Think only tree..."
Anita Alvare (bio)/Alvare Associates/610-520-6140
Bonsai Tree The Philadelphia Flower Show Ivan Watters Chicago Botanic Garden John Yoshio Naka Richard Foster Yale School of Management Karate Kid Mr. Miyagi