Sometimes the simplest advice is the best. The founder and president of Esri, a GIS company, was interviewed recently by the New York Times about his management philosophy. He shared a story about his father, who ran a plant nursery, telling him never to walk past a plant that’s wilting. Stop and water it before you do anything else. (It’s a fantastic article, about how he leads and how he still sometimes spends Saturdays working with the landscape crew from his father’s business, who now work at his company. Well worth one of your free nytimes.com clicks…)
But sometimes the simplest advice is deceptively hard to follow. I got to thinking about the wilting plants in my own business. Sure, I did throw out some clutter that was sitting on my desk, tackle some languishing tasks that I’d been avoiding, and generally snapped to it, after I read that article. I definitely responded to the “if you’re passing through, and you notice something that needs doing, do it now” element of that advice, and it’s always nice to get a bit re-energized by reading something.
The problem is, I don’t entirely know that those were really the metaphoric wilting plants I might see around me. They were just the easy, obvious things. I’m doing one project at the moment where we’re looking at some questions that are extremely immediate – not happening in real-time, but certainly in internet time. And we’re also looking at some issues where the timeframe is glacial in comparison; with timeframes of a decade or three. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the things that are happening more quickly, the plants that wilt more spectacularly, the things that need watering daily or they die.
It’s a lot harder to stay focused over the long term, on things where we might not see results for a long time, where we have to be patient, where we have to give attention, and then give it again, and then again, even though it might seem that not much has changed. We don’t necessarily get the sense of accomplishment we do when we water a wilting plant and it perks right up. For some things, maybe we have to be willing to keep adding a single drop of water every so often, and maybe we have to develop a more finely-tuned sense of what it is to keep a plant healthy.