Business Lessons From My Garden


Today I am fixing my garden…

Back in May of this year, I started a garden. It was a lot of hard work, but good honest work; the kind that makes a guy really sweat, fall asleep quickly at night and take a lot of pride in. I planted potatoes, carrots, peas, kale, beets, onions, broccoli, radishes, and zucchini. I took real care of my garden and frankly, I had some well-placed expectations of a very decent return on my sweat equity and time. ..

Well now, it is six months later and the rewards of all my efforts, care, watering and fussy attention have amounted to what?

In truth next to nothing, I got lots of exercise and high quality outside time, but aside from about 18 very small potatoes, NOTHING!

You see when I planted the garden I started at the ground level and worked up, not down, I took the soil quality for granted, in hindsight a big mistake. Now after six months of serious effort I am looking at all my investments and no returns and thinking of next year’s gardening season with a strong sense of frustration.

Am I up for a repeat of this? Not a chance, but what am I going to do about it?

Well I get out there with the right tools and I get to work, not with a shovel but with a chemistry set. This time “I ANALYZE” what is really going on, I do a complete breakdown of each garden plot by sector doing not one but five separate tests. In addition to the chemistry testing I conduct a detailed audit not just of what I have done, but also what I do not have and what I have not done, and then I especially check what I have that looks OK (deceivers) but is in fact not 100% contributing now to the results I am looking for next May and forward to next October.

I find the following:

  1. My soil is missing key ingredients such as Nitrogen, Potassium & Phosphorus;
  2. My soil is overstocked with PH factors (acids);
  3. My soil has become the home of unwanted and non-contributing items such as stones, wood chunks, pine cones, plastic and other bits and pieces of trash;
  4. I think I have been actively pulling the weeds but in fact the main trunk lines of the weeds are living under the soil surface and have grown under the line of sight to infiltrate most, if not all, of my garden and are sucking up all my gardens few remaining resources while contributing nothing to me.
  5. I had in fact only been dealing with the surface weeds and not dealing with the real and deeper weed generators that were in fact providing an endless supply of fresh weeds at my expense.

I then took the following actions:

  1. I get out my yard tools and I dig up every square foot of my 300 square foot garden to a depth of 18″ (this is sweat equity);
  2. I work through every square inch of my garden with my shovel and by hand I remove everything that does not directly belong and  contribute;
  3. I then take get out a 1/2″ mesh sieve and, by hand personally screen out every single item in all that dirt that is caught in my sieve and I throw out the trash, all while saving the good dirt that has future potential to be restored and rejuvenated (more sweat equity);
  4. Then I redo all my soil chemistry testing to make sure I have 100% accurate data and I take my soil chemistry findings to two separate independent experts and get their finding and learn how to restore my garden’s soil;
  5. I combine their findings and mine into a plan of action and then, I act, not just in the immediate and emotive moment but with cold logic, rational and force of will and extended effort that comes with doing something right but unpleasant today with the knowledge of my downstream vision being intact, and a supported by a long-term payback;
  6. Then, at the advise of my soil experts, I take all that now depleted but saved soil and I begin to invest in it,  I restart the nurturing process, adding missing and needed elements, planting winter cover crops and planning out what will happen and when in March, April and May 2013.

I have, with a lot of focus, determination and sweat equity removed the all the barriers and negativity I could find. I am now in harmony with the season; I am using good advice and hard work to put in place TODAY what needs to be done for next spring so that my long-term goals and objectives are meet.

This garden story is a lot like many businesses. We just want look at the surface, invest as little possible and expect much more than our true investment owes us. We do not want to toil in the dirt even when we own it.

In truth, we do not want to get our hands dirty. We do not want to pull out the weeds, or heaven forbid show our management weaknesses to others. Not even to real experts who can help us understand what is really going on and accelerate solutions.

Instead, you waste your time avoiding the real challenges all while expecting great returns, which if you are getting without a holistic approach to solid planning, nurturing employees and customers, and keeping administrative  discipline  will be short-lived if not downright disastrous.

If you want a solid long-term and sustainable business, you must be willing to truly examine and accept the details of your current reality and thoroughly plan out how to get from where you find yourself to where you need to be. You must be prepared to cull the non-performers (weeds & deceivers)  even when on the surface they look like rock stars, and heavy invest your time, effort and money in building up the good soil (your contributing employees) and never feel bad about throwing out the trash.

More to follow as I bring my garden back to life in the spring of 2013.