“The tallest buildings have the deepest foundations” – Baxolise Dlali
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” – Benjamin Franklin
“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe” – Abraham Lincolm
Across cultures and times we have been exposed to this idea of preparation, of laying foundations, the importance of doing the unseen, yet crucial work for the success of whatever it is we pursue.
The garden is a great teacher in this respect. Those of you who have spent time growing food will know that the quality of soil is crucial to the health of the plant that is grown. Now cultivating soil can be pretty dull hard work. It primarily takes two forms: loosening soil, so nutrients, air, water can penetrate more easily through it, and doing weeding, to reduce competition for said nutrients. It’s far more fun and exciting to see something grow, to harvest, than sit around and remove weeds. Yet we know this soil cultivation phase is crucial for a seed to germinate, and a plant to flourish.
Now in many times in life we have a tendency to skip or rush the soil cultivation phase. We are rewarded on outputs, on the seen (the fruits, the building above the surface), we are incentivised to produce tangible results, and that to in the short term.
We plant seeds, start piling water and hope for growth. When growth isn’t happening in the way we want we start throwing on fertiliser, hoping this might help. And we eventually do get the fruit. But I wonder if the quality of the fruit, the quality of the plant is what it could be?
I’m observing this in many ways in my own life and in that of society:
I observe in myself and many others an inherent restlessness and impatience to act. A tendency to keep moving without questioning where we are moving. I see this is students whom I work with who are busy applying for jobs, churning out as many CVs and cover letters as possible thinking this will increase chances of success – without doing the hard questioning of “what is it that I am really here to do?” I see this in businesses so short termist in their thinking, wanting quick fixes, to make an investment that will quickly show results without understanding the longer term implications of this. It’s the case with how we treat the environment enjoying resources in the short term with little disregard for whether we will have enough in the long term.
This rush and impatience, can pay off in the short term yet it often does more harm in the long term.
So what does soil cultivation look like?
- In our own selves this looks like building good habits, sharpening our will power, learning and understanding ourselves. For me, it’s the time spent meditating, introspecting, exercising, doing the things that are “important but not urgent”. (And taking time to not do at all, and be still!)
- In projects this looks like building relationships, building trust, building shared understanding, building capacity in others. Getting all stakeholders behind a shared vision, and designing that together. Getting a deep understanding of the context, the issues, the history. It’s what can seem like the boring research and set up phase. It takes time. But it makes our eventual project or initiative far more effective.
- And it’s not one off. This is ongoing. Weeding once at the start isn’t sufficient, it is continuous, as is developing ourselves, deepening relationships and our understanding. We must build this into our days and weeks.
What is required of us?
- We need to let go of the need to have results to show in short term and allow ourselves to play the long term game. We need to connect and stay focused on the bigger picture, on our greater purpose.
- We need to commit to doing the hard and sometimes dull (yet extremely important) weeding and preparation.
- And as far as it’s in our power we must change incentive structures and expectations of others, to support them to do the same.
What have you learnt about soil cultivation on your own life? What has helped you do this in an effective way? Do share your thoughts and insights 🙂