Are you Painting or Sculpting your Business?

I’ve been reading an interesting book – From Strength to Strength by Arthur Brooks and he brought up a perspective that I hadn’t thought about before. In the book, the context is around the idea of how we (collectively) look at creating our life. His take – based on research and personal experience – is that in the western world we tend to think of adding as the way to get to the preferred end result. We start with a ‘blank canvas’ and layer in what we want. Even going so far as to ‘paint over’ things that we don’t want (as opposed to removing them).

However, in eastern cultures, the tendency is to instead start with removing things. Sticking with the artwork theme, they start with a block of marble and gradually chip away until they get to the final sculpture they want. The primary mindset is to remove, streamline, reduce as the best way to move forward.

It’s an interesting idea and you can create great things using either approach, but it got to me thinking that most of the business owners I know are firmly in the painting (let’s add stuff) camp. But what would it look like if you were sculpting your business?

*Also a shout out to John Stevenson from Client Kudos, coincidentally his latest weekly email (which you should subscribe to) was all about starting with subtraction…

What if you had a ‘remove’ first mentality?

The first thing that comes to mind if you’re thinking about ‘cutting’ in your business is probably expenses. When you think about profitability, the equation is Revenues less Expenses, so if you can reduce your expenses, either your overhead or operating expenses, then you can increase your profits.

When’s the last time you did a full review of how you’re spending your money? Are there expense items that have gotten bloated over time? Have you shopped your employee benefits around? Do you have any employees who aren’t pulling their weight? Most small business owners won’t let someone go unless it’s a major ongoing issue… or if they are forced to because they run out of money. But what if you proactively looked at ‘right-sizing’ the team before you needed to?


The other likely way to think about sculpting is the opportunity to streamline your business. Externally that might mean getting rid of products, services or even clients who don’t really fit well with your core model.

Most businesses, especially early on or whenever things have gotten tight, will take on new work even if it doesn’t fit their overall business model very well. If you know any entrepreneurs, then you know their first answer to any potential client is ‘yes’, regardless of what the question might be.

When’s the last time you took a long look at the work that you and your team is doing? Are there things you sell that don’t really make much money (they tend to be more effort or just really tight margins)? Are their products or services that your team hates to work on? Those might be good candidates for streamlining.

Do you have clients / customers who are painful to deal with? Do you (or your team) get a bad feeling whenever the phone rings with their name on it? In cases like those – often less is more and it’s probably a great candidate for streamlining.

Growth by reduction?

Cutting back and streamlining can be great ideas, but what if you’re actively trying to grow and scale your business? You don’t want to be thinking about removing things – you want to add… build things up!

It might be a good time to rethink that approach. Sometimes more is more – you could add another a new product line, more employees, more variations on what you sell… and you might see a lift from that. But if you’re consistently using that approach, eventually you’re going to end up with a business that’s bulky, complicated and slow moving.

Alternatively, if you are constantly looking at improving your focus, only working within the sweet spot of your capabilities, then you’re going to see a couple of key things:

  1. The work that you and your team do is easier because it all lines up in your sweet spot.
  2. Your profit margins are much higher. Because the work is easier, you do a better, quicker job of it. Less mistakes, less effort, better outcomes – all of which contribute to a more profitable effort.

It’s counter-intuitive but the best way to grow long term is by doing less more effectively.

What do you think? Are you currently painting your future or sculpting it? Both have their place, but the tendency is towards adding things as a way to solve problems, so maybe it’s time to purposely think about sculpting towards a solution. What could you get rid of that would help make things better?

Shawn Kinkade Kansas City Business Coach

2 thoughts on “Are you Painting or Sculpting your Business?”

  1. Loved, loved, loved this entire concept! Thanks for sharing your insights and thoughts, Shawn. Always valuable.

  2. Kim D says:

    Great article and very insightful! Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts!

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