Tom Peters, Arie De Geus, and Roses

Sometimes life is like StumpleUpon. I was talking to Rowan Gibson today about Royal Dutch Shell and the work of Arie De Geus, memorialized in his book The Living Company and it turned out it had been important to both of us. Hearing Arie De Geus speak at a Senge Systems Thinking conference in Boston 20 years ago changed the way I viewed organizations. De Geus has had that effect on many people around the world. Including it seems, on Tom Peters. I clicked on Tom’s blog just now and found this:


I have about 3K slides in my “Master Presentation.” These are either “the most important,” or, surely, in the Top 1%:

Arie De Geus, The Living Company (father of “scenario planning” at Royal Dutch Shell): “Rose gardeners face a choice every spring. The long-term fate of a rose garden depends on this decision. If you want to have the largest and most glorious roses of the neighborhood, you will prune hard.

This represents a policy of low tolerance and tight control. You force the plant to make the maximum use of its available resources, by putting them into the rose’s ‘core business.’ Pruning hard is a dangerous policy in an unpredictable environment. Thus, if you are in a spot where you know nature may play tricks on you, you may opt for a policy of high tolerance. You will never have the biggest roses, but you have a much-enhanced chance of having roses every year. You will achieve a gradual renewal of the plant.

In short, tolerant pruning achieves two ends: (1) It makes it easier to cope with unexpected environmental changes. (2) It leads to a continuous restructuring of the plant. The policy of tolerance admittedly wastes resources—the extra buds drain away nutrients from the main stem. But in an unpredictable environment, this policy of tolerance makes the rose healthier in the long run.”

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Julie Anixter is Chief Innovation Officer at Maga Design and a Founder of Innovation Excellence.

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Julie Anixter




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