First of all, a huge thank you to all of you who have commented, tweeted, phoned up, messaged me on Facebook, or emailed. I have throughly enjoyed starting up my blog. It’s been a whole lot of fun. The challenge of getting the spoken voice and the ‘me’ into the typed word is an intriguing one. And I’m loving how it connects people, which was one of my aims. So, let’s roll on with it…..
Yesterday Doug Shaw wrote about his daughter Keira learning to play the drums, and how experimental learning is useful and fun. That got me thinking about what I’ve learned from trees.
Yes, trees. Through one of life’s little twists and turns, my husband and I got involved with growing trees a few years ago. I’ve learned some things, Ian has learned even more, and I’ve found the comparisons between trees and businesses to be rather interesting. For example, there are two features to commercial tree growing that stood out to me:
1. There are consequences
The actions we take right now with young trees don’t seem drastic or that important, but they have a huge effect on the fully grown tree. If you don’t prune a young broadleaf tree in its first 10 years, it’ll not grow a big tall straight trunk. And it won’t have much £ value. Here’s Ian pruning a young pear tree this weekend. Because he spent 10 minutes clipping its little branches today, one day, this pear tree will be valuable and a furniture maker will create something beautiful with it.
2. It’s l o n g term
Which brings me on to the second aspect of growing trees. I just wrote ‘one day, this pear tree will be valuable..’ The timescale is actually 80 years, plus. So not until around 2100 will this little pear tree be ready for harvest. (For pine trees it is quicker). Trees are therefore a really really long term thing, and require a whole lot of patience and the willingness to put in some hard work that won’t be seen in our life times. Of course there are other benefits along the way – they look beautiful, the birds and the bees like them, the thinnings can be used, etc. Managed woodlands have their own equivalents of business plans. I have created spreadsheets with columns of:
1 year | 5 years | 10 years | 20 years | long term objective
Under each column, for each section of trees within the wood, you put the actions you will take. E.g. in the next year maybe they are being pruned, in year 10 they might be thinned, in year 20 they might be thinned once more. The long term objective might be to fell in 80 years for timber or it might be to encourage mixed ages of trees to grow in order to simply look nice and be ongoing and sustainable.
Trees v work
Anyway, I don’t want to draw a load of face slappingly obvious parallels and lessons. You can see it for yourself. I just find it interesting that trees encourage me to think so much more longer term than I’ve generally found in the businesses I’ve worked in. Also trees focus my attention on the consequences of my actions. Again, in the corporate world it is very easy to be so busy busy busy that we forget about the longer term consequences of our actions. (E.g. Rob Jones recently wrote about busy-busy-busy). The classic one I’ve seen is in workforce planning: the company over hires, then downsizes, doesn’t think about the ‘survivor syndrome’ effect on those remaining, then starts up an employee engagement programme. Etc.
Our objectives tend to be to do x, y and z over the forthcoming year, and we anticipate that we will see the results (we hope) of our projects either straightaway or fairly quickly. And I don’t think my boss would be too pleased if I said: “righto, I’m going to design and run this training programme – you should see the effects of it in about 10 years time“. BUT the actions we take and the way we behave towards others DOES have a long term effect, as well as short term outcomes. Both for good and bad.
I can still remember the words of my boss, when I first became a manager of people – ahem, about 20 or more years ago. On my first day he said “don’t worry, don’t expect to feel normal for a while – you’ll feel like a fish out of water. It’s ok”. And that put me at ease. I felt that he really understood the way I felt, and it helped me settle in. I’ve repeated that sentiment to others since. And I’ve gone on to develop many new managers myself.
I can also still remember my next boss. I remember his red, spitting, snarling face, close up to mine. I remember him shouting and swearing, because I’d not followed to the letter the daily to-do list he gave me. I remember dodging as he threw a telephone across the room at me. He was a lot older, twice my size, and right scary dude. (Oh, those glory days of food retail management!) So if you wonder why I don’t really do anger at work that story might give a clue.
How about you? What are you doing now that will impact on your business or other people in 5, 10, 20 years time?