Playground Perspectives: Seeds of Change

We planted a garden a few weeks ago. Two gardens, actually.

On an early Saturday morning trip to Lowe's, a pink ceramic hippo caught Thea's attention. The hippo in question came with a small handful of grass seed, which grows into an amusing head of green hair in a matterof days. (When I was a young tyke, we did the same thing with half an eggshell.)

On the same day that Thea planted her hippo head of grass, she also helped Nikole and me plant the early spring garden. We planted long rows of seeds (peas, carrots, spinach and kale), along with a manda ted plot of strawberries.

With the right direction, our almost five-year-old was in her element, bringing a degree of precision and intention to the process that borders on the amusing. (She would get a slide rule for her birthday in April, if I didn't think it would just make her dangerous.)

We planted the outdoor garden on a cold and sunny day in February. It has stayed cloudy and cold ever since. We're still waiting for the seeds to emerge from the cold ground.

The hippo is another story entirely. It found a home on a sunny ledge in our warm house. By day three, the hippo was sporting a Marine quality head of green hair. By day five, it was a full-fledged early 90s punk rocker. Thea has cut his hair twice already.

You know where this is going, don't you?

"Dad! Why won't the garden grow?" Thea demanded the other day when we wandered into the backyard to check out the beds. "It's been like three seventy six thousand days!" Or eight days.

An impatient child -- who'd've thunk it?

I started thinking about her impatience during a recent conversation about strategy and organizational change. Driven not by budget, but by impatience, a prospective client kept pushing for a fast process that delivered fast results. We ultimately agreed, in the parlance of Star Wars, that we were not the droids they were looking for.

How often do we push for unrealistic harvests in our organizations, or in our lives? We know that change takes time and nurturing, that it is hard work. And yet, it's not surprising we get frustrated -- like Thea, most of us have never planted seeds in this particular garden. We don't know what to expect, and we don't like the results we're seeing!

There are general rules of thumb worth following in the world of change management (and probably gardening):

  • It takes at least five years to change an organizational culture.
  • Change is a rice paper floor. Plan to fall through it frequently.
  • The best change starts with you. Change that starts with conversations about "getting those people to change" is destined to fail.

As the last (and first) snowstorm of the winter looms, it seems odd to be thinking about gardening. And that may be the last, best change lesson: Prepare to be surprised. Always.

I suspect thoughts of gardening will be taking a back seat to the joys of sledding later this week.