The Peter Sellers 1979 classic "Being There" is a great commentary on Washington politics, but it's chock-full of business wisdom too. For those who don't know the movie, it's about a guy named Chance who's intellectually challenged--or to quote the woman who raised him, "shortchanged by the Lord and dumb as a jackass." The only things he knows are working in a garden and watching TV, but because of a misunderstanding he becomes heralded as a pundit. His gardening truisms are interpreted as having deep, far-reaching economic implications. Even the American president seeks his counsel.
The whole thing is meant as satire, of course. But the fact is, Chance's empty-headed utterances are as valuable as most lessons proffered in best-selling business how-tos.
I've gardened most of my life, and I'm constantly reminded how closely it resembles growing a business. As Chance's aged benefactor reflects after hearing the simpleton's observations on plants and ascribing great insight to them: "Isn't that what any businessman is? A gardener. He works on flinty soil to make it productive with the labor of his own hands. He waters it with the sweat of his own brow. He makes a thing of value for his family and for the community." Ha! That's certainly the goal, at least. Here are a few lessons I've learned in the garden, sometimes more than once, simply worded, la Chance. See if you agree they apply to business, too:
It takes time to get established
I'm inspired by photos of established gardens or naturalized landscapes hundreds of years old. But when I set out young lilacs or scatter hollyhock seeds, I know it may take years before they match the photos or the vision in my mind's eye, if they ever do.
Sometimes, it's best to start from scratch
In my garden, I realized too late that in order to get the look I'm after I should have leveled everything at the start. Instead, I left many of the things that were growing there because I have a hard time yanking healthy plants, even if they're volunteers. It seems presumptuous not to give them the opportunity to grow. And I have an equally hard time pruning them back, which means they continue to get bigger. Before I know it they've become obstructions that I'm forced to work around.
Nothing happens exactly as planned
My biggest problem in gardening is that plants don't perform as expected. Perennials that are labeled "dwarf" grow two feet tall. The Japanese maple I plant with high hopes of gorgeous fall color dies before the summer's out. As someone who likes to be in control, I'm constantly reminded how many things I can't.
Preparation is key
As Chance might say, if the soil is good, the blooms will come. It's immensely satisfying to set plants in new ground, but without a strong foundation, they'll never reach their potential and will only remind you of your own failings. I've seen many plants languish because I didn't give them the nutrients and space they needed to begin with.
Nothing will ever be perfect
Regardless of all my planning and efforts, my garden is never going to be exactly right. It's always going to be a work in progress. Accepting that fact, in gardening and in business, I'm firmly convinced, goes a long way toward being able to build "a thing of value," as Chance's patron says, for my family--both at home and at work--and the community.