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However, cash is a rather neutral fuel; we can use it well or poorly, for good or for harm. So, besides survival, vital as that undoubtedly is, what else do we really need cash for? Once we have stabilized the business as best we can, resilience must mean more than just surviving, we need to thrive as well! I was searching for something else. On this bleak Friday, the wintry garden taught me a third element of resilience, the inventive capacity for new growth.
Peas, the vegetable, are rather non-descript seeds. They are dried and wrinkly, not much for colour, very much of the earth. Yet peas are an amazing living organism, packed full of instructive genius with their finest qualities belittled by their drab appearance. Even the distantly genetically related sweat pea, which offers luxuriously scented flowers, tumble from their packet like unimaginative tiny marbles, only to land in the cold, damp, inhospitable soil of spring. But that is where their genius begins to thrive.
As I planted my rows, more methodically than perhaps I ever have, I noticed the qualities of these unheralded vegetables. Peas are mostly just packed potential; two fat little cotyledons – each half of the pea- a coiled spring of energy, stuffed full of potential power ready to explode with life.
Yet, potential power is not enough, for peas thrive in the cold, uncertain, often unforgiving days of early spring, long before the certain warmth of summer. Peas bob and weave their way through rain, hail, sleet, hot days and plunging cold nights, to burst triumphant, up from the still damp and too-cold soil, to declare victory over winter, long before it has yielded its once fierce grip on the land. But despite the trials they overcome, nothing in the garden compares with their sheer, stunning power to grow once the warmer days return. While most of the newly planted seeds are contemplating whether they will even germinate, the peas are surging up their trellises to burst first into flower, then fruit, sweetly harvesting the newly warmed sun’s abundance. Peas, it seems, can teach us a lot.
The wise leader of the healthy human company, even while attending to the demands of safety, the tragedies of loss, and the cash flows of an unknown future, is also planting peas. Those small teams or a furloughed imagineer, or insightful board, are pondering new strategies to burst from the economic winter that grips us all. These activities, often unrecognized, quietly lay the groundwork for recovery and resurgence. Where might such insight be found?
- Your best and most innovative customers are quietly planting peas, looking for new solutions, discovering unmet needs, adapting, experimenting. Listen to them carefully for the signs of new opportunities.
- Your most creative employees, the ones that drive you nuts most of the time because they can never stick to the agenda, are even now imagining a better way of doing nearly everything. Listen to them carefully for the new ways of doing old work, rendered suddenly irrelevant.
- In a world where all the rules are changing, those suppliers who never seemed quite to get the standard right, or who were always trying new stuff, or whose quality was sometimes beyond the every day, might just be uncovering a whole new way of meeting your needs. Listen to them carefully for the new ways to serve your own customers.
Now, while this economic winter still has us in its grasp is the time to plant peas. Little packets of potential energy, loaded with the fuel of innovation, equipped to thrive in the massive uncertainty of an unknowable future and ready, at the first sign of a warming trend, to burst forth with the fruit of new growth. Scrape together a little of that precious cash and search for the bright ideas that will, in turn, fuel tomorrow's growth. Collect them all, though ideas, like seeds, are not all good. In fact, many, sometimes most, are not. I always plant more peas than I hope will grow. That way I get a bumper crop later. Today however, when for too many, the days are not at all ‘good’ in any sense we recognize, today, of all days, plant peas for the warmth will come, and your healthy human company will be ready for all the good surprises it will bring.
Here at The Telosity Company, our motto is to “Do Good Work.” We are passionate about helping leaders build healthy human companies. For us, Purpose comes before Profit. We need a lot of the first. There will be enough of the second. If we can help, please ask. Find us at www.telositycompany.com
Chris Houston writes from his farm in Moffat, Ontario, where the ordered natural world and the chaotic human world get close enough so the former can teach the latter.
Last week I wrote about resilience as a critical characteristic of a healthy human company. That resilience derives from both the character of the company- its purpose and identity – as well as from cash, the fuel that drives the economic engine of the business.