There are majestic and mature fruit trees all over the United States. Many are not producing as much fruit as they could. Fruit trees that have been neglected can make a comeback and be more productive with careful pruning. Cutting branches back is a way of favoring what is left. Pruning helps the tree flourish by opening new growth opportunities. Light gets in where it couldn’t before. Air circulates better. The tree has a stronger foundation for the future.
A healthy organization can be compared to a healthy tree. Just as pruning branches from a tree helps it to become stronger and produce more, so too can pruning unproductive activities (or clients/people) allow organizations to flourish and be more fruitful for the long term. Pruning my ideas was a tough lesson to learn while coaching High School Football. At one point, I had developed too many tactics for the players to learn. By pruning back the schemes we ran, we were more effective on what remained.
If we don’t practice pruning, we cannot grow strong new branches. New ideas will never emerge if we shy away from cutting out some of the old. We may also need to cut back some good things that might prevent us from experiencing the most fruit. In his book, Good to Great, Jim Collins noted that the enemy of Great is Good. People and business are rarely willing to cut back the ‘good’ that is producing some fruit, even though that could be limiting a better outcome. I was with a company years ago that took on a product offering which increased our revenues and profits almost 30% instantly, because the profitable wasn’t significant enough and therefore a distraction to 3M.
I recently pruned my Social Media networks. If a ‘connection,’ ‘friend,’ or something I choose to ‘follow’ had never brought anything of value, I removed it. To me, it is like pruning a tree of deadwood to allow the rest of the tree to grow. I will see more meaningful material in my feed as opposed to ‘stuff.’ Less is more.
Leaders can be afraid to prune because in the short-term, it can be a painful experience. Pruning can cause short-term pain. Sometimes, a freshly pruned tree can be an ugly or sad sight, looking thinner and weaker than it did before the pruning. Last fall we had a birch tree in our front yard pruned and topped off. It still looks – scraggly, but it had to happen for better long-term and health and shaping. I know a company that to survive this COVID-19 economic situation is cutting its staff and letting go good and talented people. The pruning has to be done, the short-term results will be ugly, it will be painful on many levels – but it is needed for survival and then growth.
None of us went into 2020 thinking this would be the year for “pruning.” Many of us believe that the best predictor of the future is the past, and therefore gave not a thought to getting pruned. We had become comfortable with our prosperity and possessions. We allowed many of our choices to be made for us by accepting the status quo. Ironically, many of us played off the vision notation around 2020 and said it would be our year of focus. Pruning creates focus, but I doubt many predicted this would be the means of obtaining that focus. So, if pruning is what we are going through, then embrace it. As Benjamin Franklin said, “Pain instructs.”
This sheltering in place has created simplicity. Maybe we cannot go out to dinner and break bread with friends, but we can bake our own bread. Maybe we cannot enjoy certain events and gatherings, but we certainly can feel the abundance of family. What we value is changing. We need less to be happy. We can find joy in everyday moments. We are consuming less. There has been less busy-ness and more stillness; less hustle and more rest. There has been more connection and less meaningless interaction.
A vine to be pruned is common in Scripture. Israel is spoken of as a vineyard (Isaiah 5:1–7, Matthew 21:33–46, Psalm 80) and even Wisdom is referred to as a vine (Sirach 24:17). Isaiah 18: 5 states, “Before the vintage, when the flowering has ended, and the blooms are succeeded by ripening grapes, then comes the cutting of branches with pruning hooks, and the discarding of the lopped-off shoots.”
A passage in the fifteenth chapter of John’s Gospel says that the vine will be pruned, and there, the vine will bear fruit; then, where the vine bears fruit, the vine will, again, be pruned and will bear more fruit. The image of pruning is used to teach a lesson in bearing good fruit for God’s Kingdom. God is not content to leave us right where we are. He is not satisfied with last year’s harvest. He expects us to continue to bear good fruit. So, He prunes.
We need to be fruit-bearing Christians, not “majestic” and “mature,” with little fruit. Pruning is painful, but it is not a hostile act to the branch and it’s only for “a season.” We must recognize that pruning happens, calling for us to accept the change and trust that there is a plan.
Next will come the new growth, because out of careful pruning – growth is inevitable.