lessons of a fruit grower

On the long run, a sustainable approach to business is more rewarding than only going for a quick harvest: if greed prevails, sustainability is at risk. Where this can lead to, can easily be explained by any farmer who is running a farm, which he inherited from his great-grandfathers.

The temptation is huge though, to only focus on the biggest possible harvest. In the end, the only thing which counts is the fruits (of labour) – it’s all about the apples!

During my childhood I enjoyed the harvest of my granddad – he was fruit grower as well. It was something special, each time when he brought along the wooden cases filled with red cherries and big yellow apples. The orchard at the back of his house was full of adventurous hiding places and climbing challenges and, depending on the time of the year, it delivered wonderful fresh and tasty fruit.

The shock was a fundamental one when I ran into his garden one day in the fall: all apple trees were lying on the ground, the fresh cut flesh of their stems was glowing in contrast to the grey mud that once was our playing ground.

„Why – I yelled to my grandfather – why did you cut them down? They were healthy and delivering great apples, and they were great to climb on!“ I was crying miserably and my dad really didn’t know how to help in this – it all was irreversible.

But the reply of my grandfather made a lot of sense to me, upon which I buried my anger and tried to get over it.
„Look, he said, if I keep on having all my trees, I won’t have space for new ones, which will be grown-up then when the old ones are dying off. As a fruit grower, you always need to have one orchard where you grow trees, one where you harvest and one where you plant new trees. Only then you always will have good fruit and you are safe for the future!“ This, he added, counts for all things people make.

This lesson I took up willingly, though being only eight at that time, I didn’t realize yet what to do with it.
After having spent with more than 20 years in large industrial organizations, I know more than ever how important that ‘lecture’ is: it’s the basis for sustainable business.
I came across many managers, who solely were concentrating on harvesting the fruits of labour. They were led by one motto: why bother about the orchard, it’s the fruit that counts! I did experience the raise of these ‘harvest-managers’. They were justifying their approach with the growing need for ‘shareholder value’, with ‘portfolio pruning’, with ‘time to market reduction’ and with ‘margin optimization’ – the planning horizon was set for the next quarter only.
Today they are smarter than that, or?

Running a sustainable business doesn’t only mean one focuses on protecting the environment, but predominantly on setting up the business in such a way, that it’s fit for the future. That also in future it can deliver plenty of quality ‘fruit’.
This means that the focus is equally on cutting down old and obsolete structures and products, as to harvesting from the current successful products and services: on using the released resources to create new seeds and innovations for future harvest.

In order to innovate in a sustainable manner, it needs long term vision and trust. It all starts with creating new free space, before new innovations can surface. Trust and care are the basis for sustainable business and it is essential to protect ‘seeds’ of innovation from being trampled down by the inpatient workers that ‘harvest’. These new seeds need time and a caring hand in order to grow up to become fruitful trees.

Trust and care are needed in all phases of the business cycle: if you only focus on the harvest, you will surely harvest rotten fruit on day.

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