The Enoughpreneur – Slow and the Art of Running a Business

For some time I have struggled with a contradiction that I have had in my mind. I agree strongly with private enterprise, with people setting up their own business and the freedom and responsibility that creates (I think these small “cottage industries” are very “Slow”).

However, I dislike large corporate enterprise (in general, there are a few exceptions) and the lazy, wasteful, arrogant and insulting way they carry on their business. Let me give you an example of the contradiction, in Malta each local bus route was run by an individual driver, he would pay a licence for a route and supply his own bus, this created a marvellous multitude of buses in crazy and brilliant designs. Now the government for some reason (I imagine financial) has given the contract for ALL the bus routes to Arriva, not only putting all the bus drivers out of work or forcing them into the employment of Arriva, but creating a dull homogeny of buses that are (I have been informed) of worse value and service than before. How is that better?

But of course, in my original belief that I like private enterprise, I could not fault the man who, through hard work and offering better service, manages to purchase two bus routes, then employs a man to drive the second route for him. If he then bought another and another, how  does that make him any different to Arriva and their big operation?

Then it struck me, it is about knowing when to stop, when you have enough, when growing your business won’t actually give any more benefit to you, your employees (if you have any) and your customers, beyond the profit motive.

There is, in fact, a model in business and management theory (I used to be a management accountant) called Greiner’s Lifecycle Model that addresses this. It states that, in order to grow, an organisation passes through a series of identifiable phases or stages of development and crisis. Step one, or the first crisis, is “crisis of leadership” where the enterprising persons business grows to the stage where they cannot do everything themselves and they need help. This tends to correspond to the business owner having to take a step back from the day to day work and take on a more management role. So for an example, a carpenter who gets so much work needs to employ another carpenter, he (or she, I am using “he” here for simplicity not to suggest all carpenters are male!) then delegates some work to this other carpenter. As the business grows more, he has to delegate more and more and therefore ends up in a role far removed from what he was originally doing (and the reason he started the business in the first place). This may lead to “success” in the financial or traditional capitalist model, but is the carpenter happy doing paperwork? Probably not!

(If you are a management theories I know you will recognise this is a simplification of the model, but I have done so to illustrate the point of this post. It is not meant to be a discussion on the model, which would be a post in itself!)

So I now propose a new, alternative business model or category called the “Enoughpreneur”.

Why Enoughpreneur?

The title is inspired by John Naish’s excellent book “Enough” where he posits that the secret of (material) contentment is to earn close to or just above the average earning level of your country and to avoid the desire for more and social competition (for more detail on that, read Alain De Botton’s equally excellent “Status Anxiety”). I admit, avoiding or undoing your desire for social competition is in fact the hard part (but quite simple once you have a plan).

The metaphor or story that illustrates this model and the contradiction of the old idea of a successful business can be seen in this post about the business and the fisherman.

It is easy to get carried away, get over excited and seduced by the “success” of building a big business. The skill really is to recognise when to stop, when your business is successful enough (financially) to fulfil all your needs and desires. Do you need that second bus route? That other carpenter? Will it really enhance your life?

The example of Enoughpreneurship I am most aware of is Charles Martell and Son at Laurel Farm who make the Stinking Bishop Cheese. The cheese was brought to international attention by a brief but important role in the Oscar-winning film Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, in which it was used to revive Wallace from the dead. Demand for the cheese subsequently rose by 500%. Charles Martell was offered £1000’s to increase supply, but he refused. He made enough to keep him happy. He was not seduce by more. As he said “I’m quite happy with what I’ve got at the moment. I don’t need more money. I can only wear one suit at a time, or drive one car. And I certainly don’t want fame.

Are you an Enoughpreneur? I would love to hear from you, please email me your case study and I can run it in a future post.

Matt