If you know anything about me, you probably know that my husband and I are endurance trail runners. Earlier this week, I was out on the trails at a local state park after a particularly fierce storm. Downed trees were everywhere, blocking my path. At first, I just saw them as nuisances, but after a while, I began to see them as object lessons. 

As we ramp up into Print 17, and all of the business strategy, investment, and planning that goes with it, I thought it might be fun to look at the “lesson of the trees.”

  1. Strength of foundation

On the first couple of miles, the casualties were pines, which are known for their shallow root systems. When the winds came, the trees did not have the strength of root to hold them upright. Oaks and other species with deeper root systems were able to withstand the onslaught, but the pines came crashing down.

It reminded me that, without a strong foundation, any business—regardless of size or reputation—can be easily felled when the tough times or unexpected pressures come. In the printing industry, no capital investment, no marketing tool, and no automated workflow is going to make your business run successfully if things like the business model, strategic vision, quality employees aren’t in place. Foundation isn’t sexy, but it keeps your tree upright.

  1. Flexibility

Further down the trail, with the pines behind me, was a tall, upright tree that had simply snapped in half. The roots were strong enough, but the tree did not have the flexibility to bend under the wind.

One of the constants of this industry is change. You may have made the ideal investments and built the perfect workflow for the current business environment, but business conditions, customer preferences, and technologies change. When change comes, do you have the flexibility to turn the business 180 degrees, if necessary?

  1. Integrity and ethics

Next was another tree that had snapped, but for a different reason. It was covered in moss, and the center was soft and had started to rot. There was not enough integrity in the structure to keep it intact.

A business not built on character and integrity will rot from the inside out and from the top down. If the rot is at the bottom, it can be addressed by ethical leadership, which can root out and replace those eroding the integrity of the organization. But if the rot is at the top, it’s even more destructive. Low ethical standards can filter down throughout the organization, and employees learn that unethical behavior will be tolerated and even endorsed. You start to lose the respect, confidence, and support of the staff members below. Lose your team, lose the strength, flexibility, and health of your business.

So, before you make any significant business investments:

  • Make sure your “root system” is strong enough to support the business structure for the long term;
  • Build in flexibility so that when the winds of change come, you are able to adapt to new conditions;
  • Set high standards for business ethics and integrity and lead by example.

Do these three things and you have the best shot at success, not just at Print 17, but beyond.

The trees have spoken.