Everything I know about consulting I learned from my permaculture garden
My suburban backyard, seven kilometres from the city, is my weekend urban farm. Runner beans climb the boundaries and the peach tree is laden with fuzzy walnut-sized baubles of promise. Every Saturday I grub around in the garden, dirt under my nails; it replenishes me for the week ahead. It’s also an extraordinary professional development tool. Here are my top ten lessons in consulting, harvested from my permaculture oasis.
1. It’s important to have a common understanding of desired outcomes to align goals and efforts. On a purely financial calculation of ROI, my home grown chook eggs are about $15 each. But for us all to be happy with the chicken investment, we need to articulate and measure their true value within the family.
2. Know your limits. What do I have to work with? What are my skills? What do I have the most need for? There’s just not space, time, skills or climate to do everything, but those restrictions help me refine and focus on what I can do well.
3. Have a long view for more sustainable low-effort returns, as well as going for quick outcomes now. My five year old avocado tree flowered for the first time this year, and after two years I have artichokes. For short term returns I have broad beans, tomato, carrot, lettuce, coriander – but the kilos of apples and olives every autumn are wealth for nothing because of a little effort ten years ago.
4. Safe to fail experiments save a lot of money and heartache. For $14.99 each, I now know I haven’t the time or patience to cosset bananas or macadamias. And I’m glad I didn’t spend $150 each on more advanced specimens.
5. On the other hand, great returns come with great risk. And on this I say, “bees”.
6. Scan the environment and adapt to changing circumstances. This summer is expected to be hot and dry. I’m planning ahead so I don’t lose all my hard work to date.
7. Give people what they want. My zucchini are amazing but no matter what marketing efforts I put in place, no one wants to eat them and I end up giving them away.
8. Understand whether it’s worth competing. My verandah is covered by a shady grapevine, and I could, if I wanted, make dolmades with the leaves. But grapes? Every year a flurry of birds, agile and targeted, strip the delicious bunches just as I watch them ripen. Despite my best efforts over years, I just can’t compete in this market.
9. Problems lead to solutions, which lead to unexpected benefits. This year, I planted a bamboo grove in response to a neighbour’s new second storey. As well as screening, I have shade along the western boundary, bamboo shoots for stir fries, and am producing my own garden stakes and trellises.
10. Everything will flourish if it’s in the right place. All organisations have an incredible variety of skills and talent. The key to a garden that sings is finding the right niche for everything. Grow wasabi in the shade and basil in the sun, otherwise there’s no point in bringing them into the garden
One of my favourite permaculture sayings is, “You don’t have a snail problem, you have a duck deficiency.” So, as I listen to clients talk about their snails, I am thinking about how I can provide them with ducks.
Highly skilled, high performance, appropriately costed ducks.