When Napoleon accused England of being a nation of shopkeepers, he wasn’t, presumably, giving them a compliment. Nearly 200 years later, this description of British business is still accurate.

Although you’ll find all sorts of tiny businesses there that don’t qualify as shops, the country still values individual enterprise. Even in London, 90% of all businesses employ fewer than twenty-five people.

Consultants, craftspeople, writers, designers and freelancers of all sorts have created marvelously innovative niche businesses for themselves.

This philosophy of small scale enterprise gained global attention in the seventies when economist E.F. Schumacher wrote his popular book, Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered.

Schumacher’s ideas made sense to those concerned about global issues, as well as those who suspected that one of the functions of business was to help people actualize their potential. He pointed out that those benefits could only come from small scale enterprises that cared about people and the planet.

In the US, Schumacher mainly caught the attention of the counterculture, since conventional business was still focused on a bigger is better mentality. Even though Schumacher’s writing didn’t make much impact on the reorganization of big businesses, it had a resounding influence on new enterprises that started small and were determined to remain small.

There’s still a great deal we can learn from our English cousins. Why have they sustained such a long history of small business success? Might this have anything to do with the fact that this is also a nation of voracious gardeners?

Consider, this advice from the great British garden designer and writer Penelope Hobhouse. A real hands-on gardener, Hobhouse and her late husband were the gardeners at Tintenhall in Somerset.

Several years ago, she shared her ten life rules of garden design with an American gardening magazine and the parallels to good business design were obvious.

What business wouldn’t benefit from applying these rules?  I’ve also added a couple of comments in parenthesis.

You might want to post these in your garden—or office.

1. Never go anywhere without a notebook. Be a perpetual student.

2. Find one mentor, or many.

3. Do your homework.

4. Trust your own experience. Keep notes of what works and what doesn’t.

5. Don’t get hung up on plants (or products or services). A garden is bigger than all that.

6. Never think you’ll get it right the first time. If a plant isn’t happy, don’t hesitate to dig it up and move it to a better spot.

7. Encourage self-seeding plants to seek their own place in your garden. (Find your own metaphor in that.)

8. Don’t forget that sunshine and shade are design elements.

9. Avoid fussiness. Above all, simplify.

10. Focus on the garden you really want.


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