What Tending a Vegetable Garden Can Teach You About Business
Running a business takes intense focus and eats up the major portion of your time; however, studies have shown that giving your mind the time to wander allows you to turn from immediate tasks to life’s bigger -- often more important -- challenges.
I needed to make that turn, myself; I needed a reason to get out of the office and give my mind a break. To find that something that was the complete opposite of running a tech company. So, I planted a vegetable garden.
My gardening background is pretty weak. We had a small garden when I was growing up, and I still do a decent job of mowing a lawn. I can also keep an orchid alive for upwards of a week. What's more, I have a basic understanding of how things grow and the fact that food doesn’t magically appear in nice rows at the supermarket on its own.
What I didn’t foresee was how preparing, planting and maintaining my garden plot could give new insights into managing my business. Here’s how a vegetable garden can give you food, for thought, too.
1. Setting up a strong foundation
The biology of plants is fairly simple. Take a seed, surround it with nutrients, give it some water, expose it to the sun and watch it magically grow into a plant that can feed a family. However, add too much of any one element and the results can be devastating.
Poor drainage will rot the root system; too much sun will cause leaves to wither; poor soil will have you buying your veggies at the supermarket again in no time. And the foundation of your garden plot will determine whether you’re pulling out potatoes or pulling out your hair.
A good business needs a proper foundational structure, as well. A solid business plan, sufficient funding and a strong ownership team are the basic building blocks of a sustainable and scalable organization. When one element is out of whack, you run into critical issues that escalate over time. Unmanageable growth, cash-flow issues and poor leadership can quickly cause even good businesses to fail.
2. Plotting your space
Did you know that planting onions next to carrots will deter pests away from both plants? That lettuce helps to tenderize nearby summer radishes? That adding flowers to a vegetable garden attracts bees, which in turn pollinate the other plants, leading to a bigger overall yield?
A garden, much like a workplace, is a collection of individual organisms that are highly affected by their surroundings.
Similarly, the spacing and flow of an office environment can directly affect the people working there, in the same way. Having your boisterous sales department share an open office space with your software development team is a recipe for disaster. Improperly integrating senior staff into a youth-focused culture can disrupt an entire organization.
Just ask Dan Lyons about his Year in Startup Hell. Individuals, much like plants, can positively or negatively affect the health of the overall organization, due to factors as subtle as personality and proximity.
3. Nurturing and harvesting
Gardening is a test of patience. Seeds slowly become seedlings, then mature, blossom and produce fruit. Some plants, such as lettuce and herbs, can be harvested early and often without harming the plants themselves. Root vegetables on the other hand require long periods of growth before they reach maturity. Knowing when a vegetable plant is ready is both an art and a science.
Expectations for employees and business objectives follow a similar cadence. Young interns require attention, mentorship and direction to prepare them properly for higher-stress scenarios. Placing inexperienced employees in a situation for which they weren’t adequately prepared can adversely affect their self-confidence and stunt their long-term growth.
Distinct roles should come with distinct expectations, as well. Sales teams can be expected to produce early and often, while your R&D department may need months, or even years, to realize the first fruit of their labor.
Overall, growing a business and growing a vegetable garden both require planning, dedication and patience. Whether you’re managing a tech company or managing tomatoes, focus on setting up a strong foundation, surrounding your team with the right nutrients and harvesting results when the time is right.
The seeds you sow today will produce the harvest you reap tomorrow.