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Brandon Zaffini & Ben Kafferlin

Today’s entrepreneur would benefit from an occasional history lesson. She would do well to heed the advice of ancient philosophers like Aristotle and Plato. Really.

Consider the following from Aristotle, a theorist who was not afraid to be practical. In sum, he said: Moderation is the key to living the good life, the key to being happy.

From our experience working with small businesses, we’ve found that Aristotle’s advice has implications for more than just the individual—that moderation is the key not only to individual success, but also to corporate success.

Even simple observation shows us that most things are good in moderation but bad in excess. Think of an example from your own life. Perhaps your vice is eating too much or too little, or getting to much or too little sleep (probably the latter if you’re an entrepreneur). And the end results are always the same: poor health and less productivity.

Just like individuals, most organizations and businesses suffer from unmoderated behavior. In fact, a sizeable amount of our time at Kafferlin Strategies is spent identifying and correcting our client’s vices or that of their company culture—in other words, correcting the lack of moderation.

Yet as a working concept, moderation is still easier to comprehend in theory than in practice: its definition has proven all too elastic, stretching to accommodate almost every pet behavior and choice.  And the upshot is that plenty of self-indulgent people claim to be moderate.

Still other people view moderation as synonymous with a life of austerity and stoicism, or a life that is passionless and devoid of joy.

But moderation, rightly understood, is not mere stoicism. Not even close.

Moderation is about wholeness, where the whole object is more than the sum of its parts. More practically, a moderate business is full, complementary, well-ordered. No single virtue dominates; no single pursuit takes over. Instead, everything works together harmoniously. Everything is well-rounded and balanced.

A lack of moderation, in contrast, results when the parts are elevated over the whole. Immoderate businesses are incomplete and disordered, single-minded and blinkered. They tend to focus narrowly on one or two factors, goals, strengths, strategies—the list of mistakes is endless—to the exclusion of everything else.

You’ve seen this type of company before, the one that tries to fix every problem by throwing more time and money at it, for example.  Money and time are tools to be used, for sure, but they aren’t the only ones at your disposal, and eventually their use will meet a diminishing return. That’s because corporate success depends on a delicate balance between a thousand different parts, a cooperative interplay of a thousand different tools.

Often a company’s vices are confused for virtues, but outside a larger context, or in isolation, these supposed virtues bring about more harm than good.

Here’s an example. Knowing your competitors is always a positive, right? Well, no, not always. You only have (or should only have) 8-10 hours to work on your business each and every day, and keeping up on the latest market trends or the minute details of your competitors may not be very valuable when you consider opportunity costs.

The salient point? You have limited time and money, so don’t sacrifice all of your resources on one area. Instead, appropriately allocate resources to where they are most urgently needed. Otherwise, you’ll neglect important aspects of your business and it will quickly become unhealthy and unproductive.