Making Things Grow

I grew up in a small farm town where there were more cows than people. My parents owned a large garden, and each summer we would be forced to have the pleasure of working in the garden. There were weeds to pull, plants to water, peas to shell, potato bugs to collect and squish, and so on. It seemed like a never ending opportunity for child labor. Of course we did directly benefit from it – throughout the rest of the year we would eat what was gathered from the garden. That, and it taught us kids some responsibility. “Work builds character, so get to work” as my parents would say. And they were right.

Today I was reminded of something else that I learned in the garden:

You can’t make things grow.

You can provide a fostering environment, but you can’t actually force anything to grow. You can’t split open a seed and pull the seedling out, forcing roots into dirt and leaves into the air.

This definitely isn’t a new concept. Back in the days of the Bible, this was stated:

Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?
Matthew 6:27

Today, when I was thinking about this, I was thinking about it in relation to businesses and employees. How do you make a business grow? You provide a fostering environment. You nurture it, you surround it with the resources it needs, and you let it do its thing. Some business will fail, and some will succeed. There are some things that you don’t have control over: market conditions, freak accidents and natural disasters, laws of the land, etc. But, you do what you can with the things that are in your control, and you do the best you can to provide an environment of success.

Likewise, you can’t force employees. Well, you can try, but chances are you’ll end up with unhappy employees and a broken business. Instead, you provide an environment that encourages them to work. In the words of a favourite quote of mine:

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea. – Antoine de Saint-Exupery (Famous French aviator)

I’ve recently been reading Carrying the Fire, the story of Michael Collins, one of the Apollo astronauts. I’m sure, especially since it was the government, that there was a lot of orders being given. At the same time – everyone had a vision of what was wanted. Once people caught the vision, they were willing to work longer and harder.

It’s difficult to do things when not everyone has the same vision. One of the most valuable things you can do to ‘make things grow’ is to make sure everyone has that same vision. Without it, you’ll be dead in the water (or worse – still on the shore).

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