Five Business Lessons From the Garden

Gomphrena pink zazzle shoing tiny yellow flowers

Gomphrena pink zazzle shoing tiny yellow flowers

Many of you know that I have been reading a lot lately about Social entrepreneurship, business and imagination. Lots of new and stimulating books out there but probably the greatest lessons I have learned in this regard come from the garden, and as I read some of the books on my pile it seems that many of them just reiterate what I am learning:

  1. There is no failure in the garden – if something doesn’t work this year, try again immediately or next year or plant in a different place in the garden. One of the primary tenants of social entrepreneurship is fail well, some even say we need to become masters at failure. (see Imagination First 187) Failure is not disaster it is a learnable skill that is necessary for success.
  2. Plan for surprise – there is nothing more wonderful than going out in the garden and discovering something totally unexpected. Developing a business is a little like that too. Routine can stifle our imagination. We need to regularly rinse out our expectations (Imagination First 158) and allow the random unexpected happenings to take over. This year for example my best autumn greens in the garden are a patch just behind my raised beds that self seeded. One of my garden helpers almost covered them over thinking they were weeds. Fortunately I stopped him in time and have just encouraged everyone to walk around the patch. This unexpected surprise has provided an amazing harvest for my green smoothies.
  3. Look, listen and learn. Stillness is a fertile breeding ground for ideas (43). Wandering through my garden with no other intention than to breathe in the stillness of God and admire the flowers gives unexpected rewards. For example, to fill in my flower pots which had been decimated by the summer drought here in Seattle, I planted gomphrena – I knew nothing about it but the plants in the garden nursery caught my attention. Usually I look at them from a distance but a few days ago I walked close and was stunned by the beauty. The wonder of the leaves covered in dew and then the emergence of tiny yellow flowers has awed and stirred me.

    Gomphrena covered in dew

    Gomphrena covered in dew

  4. All good things begin small. We are easily overwhelmed by the immensity of the problems in our world- gun violence, poverty, sex trafficking, climate change – no matter what the issue we want to respond to, we can easily become powerless because our own small efforts seem so trivial. But every plant grows from a tiny seed – a seed that germinates in darkness away from the world. Forcing it into the light too soon destroys it.
  5. Share with others. Gardeners are the worlds greatest sharers or cross pollinators. They love to talk about their garden designs, share recipes, produce and techniques. they love to hear the stories others have to share and never feel they know it all. Along the way they learn, rethink their ideas, experiment and come up with new and creative plans that improve their harvests. For too long we have thought that the way to effective business is to hold our ideas to ourselves – patents and copyrights though sometimes necessary to protect our intellectual rights can also stifle creativity and new design. When we share all of us benefit.

Imaginative Learning or Contemplative Action.

imagination first

Tom and I have just returned from vacation, and as per usual, I took a stack of books with me, some of which I will share with you over the next few days. One is Imagination First: Unlocking the Power of Possibility by Eric Liu and Scott Noppe-Brandon. I was particularly struck by Capacities for Imaginative Learning they share. Originally designed for arts and education, the authors feel however that they are guides for life.

It is an inspirational and thought provoking book that I would recommend to anyone who wants to increase their creativity.

What struck me is how closely these “capacities for learning” parallel contemplative practices and the spiritual discernment process we have used for many years in MSA. They open our eyes and ears to new ways of interacting with the world. They help us become creative, imaginative, able to solve problems in out of the box ways. From a faith perspective they open us up to the presence of God in all things and increase our awareness of God’s involvement in all the creative processes we engage in to shape our work and daily life.  I thought you would find them interesting:

Noticing deeply: identifying and articulating layers of detail through continuous interaction with an object of study

Embodying: experiencing a work through your senses and emotions, and physically representing that experience.

Questioning: asking “Why” and “What if” throughout your explorations

Identifying patterns:  finding relationships among the details you notice, and grouping them into patterns

Making connections: linking patterns you notice to prior knowledge and experience (both your own and others)

Exhibiting empathy: understanding and respecting the experience of others

Creating meaning: creating interpretations of what you encounter, and synthesizing them with the perspectives of others.

Taking action:  acting on the synthesis through a project or an action that expresses your learning

Reflecting and assessing: looking back on your learning to identify what challenges remain and to begin learning anew.

Going on Retreat: What am I Reading?

Away on retreat

Away on retreat

The summer is definitely in full swing here in Seattle and Tom and I are getting ready to head out of town for a retreat. I am browsing through my stacks of books both read and unread to see what I want to take with me. It is a daunting task – so many good books come across my desk each week. How do I or any of us decide?

1. First I like to take a spiritual devotional. At present I am using the New Zealand Book of Prayer. It’s morning and evening prayer are great ways to start and end my retreat days. I might also use the devotional put out by Jesuit Media Initiatives.

2. I always take a book that scratches where I itch from a spiritual perspective. This time I have three – two by Jan Johnson whose work on spiritual direction and lectio divina is always both practical and insightful. Savoring God’s Word and When the Soul Listens are both books I have used in the past that I love to return to when I need some spiritual discernment. Margaret Guenther’s Holy Listening: The Art of Spiritual Direction is my third choice. Not hard to tell that I am wanting to revisit my contemplative practices and renew my ability to listen to God on this retreat.

3. I like to take something that addresses my ministry focus. This time Imagination First: Unlocking the Power of the Possible by Eric Liu and Scott Noppe-Brandon.

4. I also take my bible, my journal, and my spiritual retreat log which is a compilation of all the notes from past retreats. I love to look back over these and sense the thread of God’s direction in my life. I love to savour the scriptures that have spoken to me in the past and ask what God may want to say through them or through other scriptures on this retreat.

Now obviously this is more than anyone can read in two days. But I like to have a good selection because even though I head off on retreat with a sense of the direction God is taking me, the details are not obvious until I spend undistracted retreat time in God’s presence. In the first few hours of retreat I might skim though all the books I have with me anticipating that God will grab my attention through something I read. Then I know which of the books I need to bury myself in for the next couple of days. I love to see how God develops this sometimes taking me down unexpected pathways.

Look back with gratitude, look forward with anticipation has become a mantra for my times away that stirs me to expect new things from God at every step.