There’s No Business Like Slow Business

It’s time for a prominent Slow Business movement

“There’s no business like slow business.” — Mervi Eskilinen

There is no Great Resignation at the moment for those of us who are self-employed or who own small businesses. But it doesn’t mean we’re not reaching for or experimenting with something different, better.

And something slower. Because slower encompasses so many of the good things we want and may be missing. They’re there in the guiding principles of any of the Slow movements that have percolated in various strengths since an early 2000s flourishing that took hold after the beginning of Slow Food in 1986.


Is It Time for Slow Business?

Yes. We’re, um, past due for Slow Business. To state the obvious, businesses are central to our economy, and thus, a key player in our lives and landscapes. Even more so for those of us who run solo, micro, or small enterprises. Yet in Wikipedia’s entry on Slow movements, business is not one of the 28 areas where noted Slow ideas have put down some roots (everything from cities and counseling to parenting and scholarship).

If you search online for Slow Business, you will encounter a smattering of efforts and ruminations on the topic over the years. You will also find parallel ideas too — resilient business, sustainable business, green business.

It is time for a sustained, higher-profile delineated Slow Business movement. One that supports and encourages efforts to pull those good things highlighted by Slow movements to the forefront of our operations.


What Slow Business Is Not

Let’s start with what slow business is not and what we’d be kicking to the curb with this new orientation…

  • Feast or famine culture

  • Hustle culture

  • Mindless activity

  • Toxic productivity

  • Workaholism

  • Burnout

  • Cookie-cutter, homogenized goods and services

  • Slacker culture, poor customer service

  • Get rich quick thinking

  • Pursuit of profit at all costs

  • Pursuit of profit as the only good


What Does Slow Business Look Like?

Drawing from others and the tenets of other Slow camps, here’s what I have so far:

Things that matter In a Slow Business Manifesto proposed in 2009 by Jerry Stifelman, creative director at Fight Bullshit Create Truth, a documentary-based creative firm, Slow Business is about things that matter: who you are, the rest of your life, relationships, joy, love, the planet.

Deliberate choices A key benefit of slowing down, according to Anne-Laure Le Cunff writing for Ness Labs, is better decision-making. When we allow time, space, and reflection for consideration of options and reaching clarity, we can do things on purpose. Things we consciously and conscientiously choose according to the criteria that matter to us.

Work-life balance A restoration of sanity. The right balance for us or for our business or for a particular moment in time. Working to live and not living to work.

Time and attention for the simple things Slow Business, according to Carl Honoré in his 2004 book In Praise of Slowness: Challenging the Cult of Speed,* allows time to tend to the simple things of life. Imagine stopping to chat with your neighbors or write an impromptu thank you note without feeling rushed or guilty that it’s not productive. Consider the value of being present while talking to your grandparents or listening to your children. Does the current way you run your business allow for such simple basics in a day of human life?

Enjoyment Savoring is not just for food. Slowing business down and inserting some mindfulness can bring back or introduce enjoyment. Enjoyment in learning business, in conducting business, in being useful to others.

Commitment to the craft Beyond enjoyment, Slow Business can involve a dedication to the practice of our craft and the craft of business itself. Whatever a blend of professionalism, artisanship, and devotion to mastery looks like for your business.

Attention to quality Running alongside commitment to a craft is attention to quality. Quality of goods and services. Quality of operations. Quality of relationships. The overall attitude that quality matters and it’s what you aim to deliver.

Personalized enterprises, customized solutions Slow Business supports the emergence and development of businesses forged from individual visions in response to founders’ inner rumblings or local needs. Businesses that add to local flavor rather than copying stale but scalable templates.

People front and center In short: people before profits. This, or any Slow Business characteristic, should not come at the expense of fundamental profitability and sustainability — no surplus money means no business. It does look like a mindful attentiveness to stakeholders, employees, and customers. Communication and relationships. People.

Humanistic Recognition that our businesses and their challenges and triumphs are the stuff of our lives, and that as multidimensional humans we have needs, goals, values, and motivations beyond making as much money as possible as fast as possible so that I can then start really living. The cultivation and expression of the many facets of our humanity through our work and enterprises.

Present-tense and longer-term Rather than focusing on short-term gains and the someday-maybe of when it all works out or when I strike it big, Slow Business resides in the joys and challenges of the moment and long-term viability and success.

Health In musing over what slow business means to her, Jess van Roekel sums it up as choosing health over hustle, inspired in part by the slow process of pregnancy. (What an excellent metaphor for slow too. Truly, some things happen in their own time and cannot be rushed.) Managing our ventures at a pace and in a way that promotes and sustains health is Slow Business.

Sustainability Torill B. Wihelmsen, founder of Norway’s Slow Business Adventure and the Resilient Business Podcast, stresses the sustainable and resilient nature of Slow Business. A Slow Business is one that’s built to last, robust enough for market fluctuations and disruptions, one that builds us and others up rather than tearing us down.

Fault tolerance A sustainable Slow Business knows about engineering realism, designing for the unexpected and human foibles (“factors”). When I used to moan about my business to my partner, he liked to say, “Wow! You’ve figured out perfectly how to run your business. Now it doesn’t work unless it runs perfectly.” Businesses, schedules, projects, lofty goals, employee and personal productivity— none of us, none of our contraptions (physical or abstract), none of it ever goes according to plan. Slow Business accounts for the absolute certainty of mistakes and failure through fault tolerance, by building in redundancies, cushions, fail-safes.

A broad set of values For some, moving beyond a sole emphasis on profit and growth may be redirected to the idea of a Triple Bottom Line (TBL), i.e., people, profits, planet. But why stop there? Look at this list and supplement it with your own interests and values. There is a buffet of significance out there at which Slow Business owners can nibble, feast, or anything in between.

Democratized wealth Ideas under the umbrella of democratized wealth keep cropping up for me lately, and I’m throwing Slow Business into that mix. Slow Business opens us up to broader conceptions of wealth and resources (time, relationships, community, health, mental health, environmental health, etc.). It also aligns closely with ideas of the ethical economy, which aim to decrease inequalities and increase the distribution of thriving and prosperity.

The bigger picture and the good life It’s really that short and sweet: What this all amounts to is holding a bigger picture of what business is all about in mind and creating, stoking the good life. For self and others.

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