Waking up to Wisdom
In Stillness and Community

Business Lessons from A Quiet Gardener

--by William Rosenzweig (Apr 16, 2012)

The people who know me best know that at heart I am just a quiet gardener. My garden has probably taught me the most about how things grow - and thrive in a vibrant and sustainable manner. These lessons have shaped my approach to encouraging responsible growth in business and to the ways I apply my intention, attention and energy.

A gardener sees the world as a system of interdependent parts - where healthy, sustaining relationships are essential to the vitality of the whole. "A real gardener is not a person who cultivates flowers, but a person who cultivates the soil." In business this has translated for me into the importance of developing agreements and partnerships where vision and values, purpose and intent are explicitly articulated, considered and aligned among all stakeholders of an enterprise - customers, employees, suppliers, shareholders, and the broader community and natural environment.

The garden has taught me about patience and persistence and the ethical principles of generosity and reciprocity. It has illuminated the importance of appreciating the cycles of life and decay. For the gardener, composting is a transformative act - whereby last season's clippings (or failures) can become next year's source of vigor.

I've learned that it's not just what you plant, but how you plant it that brings long - term rewards in life, work and the garden. Gardeners know that once strong roots are established, growth is often exponential rather than linear.

Also gardening, like business, is inherently a local activity, set within an ever-changing and unpredictable global climate. Showing up in person, shovel - and humility in hand is essential.

Gardeners, like entrepreneurs, are obsessed with latent potential - and can be known to be pathologically optimistic. We can vividly imagine the bloom and the scent of the rose even in deepest of winter. As the American naturalist Henry David Thoreau once wrote: "I have great faith in a seed. Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders."

In essence, the gardener's work is a life of care. We cultivate abundance from scarce resources. We nurture, encourage, fertilize - and prune when necessary - while being respectful of the true and wild nature of all things. We know that creating enduring value requires vision, passion, hard work and the spirit of others.

I am just coming to understand this work of business gardening - and investing in keeping people healthy - as an act of universal responsibility. His Holiness Dalai Lama reminds me: "Each of us must learn to work not just for one self, one's own family or one's nation, but for the benefit of all humankind. Universal responsibility is the key to human survival. It is the best foundation for world peace."

--William Rosenzweig, from his Acceptance Speech for "Oslo Business for Peace Award"

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Previous Reflections:

On Apr 15, 2012 Ravi Sheshadri wrote:
 I never thought of life in this way. This article is really wonderful. I have avoided developing a garden for so many years because I donot have patience to do it. But after this article I think it has inspired to do that. Thanks a lot. This will also help me in developing a gardener in myself. Recently I have become an entrepreneur and all the qualitities of gardener are imp for an entrepreneur. Thanks again.

On Apr 15, 2012 Conrad P. Pritscher wrote:
 Thank you for the opportunity to respond. I am most impressed with the notion that business is for corporate and individual profit (for itself whereas gardens are often for others). The organizational world, including nonprofit groups,  are often noticeably different.  I see, parent of, as mindfully using many garden metaphors. Service space has grown greatly because of the fertilizer of "detachment" and "no expectations." Businesses expect profit and are often attached to it.  Furthermore, service is doubly detached in not expecting "members" to donate.  There are many fine business people. Closer to the ideal of compassion for everyone, however, are many nonprofit organizations. Nonprofit organizations are often, in my opinion, more awake than most for-profit businesses. Warm and kind regards to everyone.

On Apr 15, 2012 PK wrote:
 I loved the statement that said that we cultivate soil not the flowers -- how true! It is all about cultivating and nurturing the soil and seed without quite knowing what comes out of the ground! It is a great metaphor for developing leaders and developing organizations!

On Apr 17, 2012 Patrick N. Paternott wrote:
 I have been self employed for over 25 years, and reading and listening just now has made me realize my whole approach to doing business has been this attitude, even when customers go broke and I lose money, my sympathies have been with them, much to the chagrin of my accountant, but then I say, their need is greater than mine.  Thank you, Patrick

On Apr 17, 2012 Dhara wrote:
 awesome, thank you.  :)

On Apr 17, 2012 David Doane wrote:
 The various parallels in the garden metaphor to life and growth and working with people are all valuable.  The one that stands out for me is "the gardener's work is a life of care...we nurture, encourage, fertilize - and prune when necessary - while being respectful of the true and wild nature of all things."  That is the way of living for me to cultivate in my life and I am sure will blossom into happy results.  In reading this piece, I also find myself thinking that in gardening like in living I control the gardening/cultivating that I do --I  have no control over the outcome.   I can cultivate the soil, persistently care for the plants, nurture, encourage, fertilize, and prune, all of which probably increases the chances of a healthy garden, but there is no guarantee of a beautiful blossom or harvest.  Gardening is its own reward -- a beautiful blossom or harvest is another reward that may or may not happen.

On Apr 17, 2012 Lennox wrote:
The line "A gardener sees the world as a system of interdependent parts" pretty much sums up the whole passage succinctly. Successful application of this enlightened worldview to competitive, profit centric business environment is uplifting and hopeful. Heartening to see that business and spirituality don't need to be at odds, but can operate in perfect harmony!

On Sep 7, 2012 Khurram Amrohi wrote:
 A very well penned artical lacks the vital answer, What the gardener actuali did

On Sep 7, 2012 Dean wrote:

 This is certainly a wonderful parallel with gardening & business and as I've always truly believed, when employers cultivate, coach & guide their employees a beautiful field blossoms and some many derive benefit from such caring.  I have trained Killer Whales, employees and I've tried to train employers and found the latter the most difficult. So hopefully your message will reach some of those employers that have so little regard for the great resources we have in human beings and their relationship to a bountiful harvest!  Thank you for your refreshing point of view!


On Sep 7, 2012 Mary Bridget Thielbar wrote:
 How absolutely true. Such a beautiful style of communicating about a tough subject.

On Sep 8, 2012 Brad wrote:
For me, business is one tool in gardening a community of people and the environment to create abundance and life.  There are other gardeners working in the systems of our communities - such as our elected government, civil and faith society, non-profit agencies, and beneficial corporations.

We need master gardeners who can work with others and look to the garden to see what is growing and what is struggling and make the vibrancy of the garden the focus of action.

On Sep 9, 2012 harsha wrote:
What a marvelous approach to life in all its fullness.The similarities between gardening and  entrepreneurship has been beautifully dealt with.The cycle of seed planting growth and decay and further transforming composte into regenerating manure emphasizes the view that change is necessary for further growth. The gardener and the entrepreneur both have to be alchemists transmuting each situation into  beautiful opportunities' 

On Sep 9, 2012 Jo wrote:
 This is a magnificent article. I can feel the principals of patience, acceptance, trust, surrender and all within the context of the business environment. Thank you

On Sep 10, 2012 Cindy wrote:
This article tells the secret of my life. I cannot help seeing the garden in every organization I am involved with. I, too, love the wild thing sentence, but just now, I am truly touched and inspired with hope by this sentence: "For the gardener, composting is a transformative act - whereby last season's clippings (or failures) can become next year's source of vigor.". Thank you.

On Sep 12, 2012 Mackey wrote:
 I just want to say thank you.  You speak to my personal experience with eloquence. The Natural world is a quiet teacher beyond measure

On Sep 13, 2012 Linda wrote:
 "A gardener sees the world as a system of interdependent parts - where healthy, sustaining relationships are essential to the vitality of the whole."  It is so in all relational groups... in business, in play, in love, and in families, intimate or extended.  Thank you.  Linda

On Sep 15, 2012 Lucky Penne wrote:
-=- Spiritual development germinates not from seed sown in the soil of material hopes, but when these decay, Love propagates anew the higher joys of Spirit, which have no taint of earth. Each successive stage of experience unfolds new views of divine goodness and love. [Mary Baker Eddy, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures] -=- 

A picture is worth a thousand words:

On Sep 21, 2012 Asif wrote:
 This is a really nice article. What i learned recently is to read and learn something again, it just helps overall with understanding and absorbing the information