You’ve heard of it (and maybe seen some examples of it) before — the ancient Japanese art of involving the careful growing, cultivation, and shaping of miniature trees.
But not many of us have spent time with a Bonsai Master in Japan. British entrepreneur Richard Flanagan recently did. And it entirely transformed his mindset on business. Let’s explore why.
Since trees can often live to be hundreds of years old, many bonsai trees are traditionally passed down from one Bonsai Master to the next for generations. Each Bonsai Master considers themselves to be not the owner of the tree, but rather a custodian. They understand that these trees pre-dated them and, with proper care, will far outlive them.
The same philosophy that allows bonsai trees to survive for dozens of generations has a lot to do with why Japanese companies are among the oldest in the world.
Transparency = Responsibility
Richard is no stranger to business. He started his first venture at age 20 and went on to found five more businesses, his most recent being Tshirtify – an on-demand merchandise company he started with his wife, Kerry.
Because he’s a manufacturer, Richard is both a consumer and distributor of goods. So he recognises that he has a responsibility to be fully knowledgeable of his supply chain. It’s not just about using sustainable or organic materials, but also ensuring that the people involved in different stages of production are treated and compensated fairly.
“Everything we touch, handle, and use in our daily life has a story to tell,” Richard says.
This is especially important in industries that rely on developing countries for their raw materials.
Richard wants consumers to be able to make informed, responsible choices by having access to complete and transparent information about a product from start to finish. He sees technologies like Blockchain as a promising solution to the challenge of transparency.
Leading by example
Richard’s renewed focus on building a responsible business model transfers to his philosophy of giving as well. He supports UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 12: Responsible Consumption and Production.
This SDG is central to the way he runs his business and his giving activities and B1G1 has allowed him to be profitable AND on purpose — what some people increasingly refer to as a Conscious Business.
“We’re in the business of raising awareness and consciousness,” he says.
He believes that, far from being a liability, having a smaller business comes with a certain ‘agility’ to make smart, responsible decisions and to make their values part of the company’s culture. To get their clients involved, Tshirtify tailors their giving projects to the clients’ personalities. Clients who happen to be artists, for instance, can make an impact through art therapy programs.
Tshirtify also has its employees share their personal passions and goals with each other, fostering a mutually-supportive environment. Richard believes that as more small businesses make these types of radical yet responsible innovations, more larger organisations will be inspired to follow suit.
Cultivating his legacy
The long-term vision of Bonsai Masters isn’t the only aspect of Japanese culture that has inspired Richard. The Japanese have a concept they call Ikigai or, the “reason for being”. It’s what you live for – what gets you up in the morning.
Richard’s Ikigai is to build something that lasts long after he is gone. By ingraining his long-term vision, responsible sourcing, and small but impactful giving into the culture of Tshirtify, he hopes that the business will continue for generations like an old bonsai tree.
He hopes that future custodians of his legacy will consider these simple questions…
“How many dreams and impacts did we make today? How many lives did we change?”
And that’s such a great question for all of us in business.