Sometimes in our personal lives and our work (yes – even in the cookie business), we do things that need to be done, with no immediately visible benefit or payoff. In the digital world, we have near instant feedback, access to information, friends, family, resources and more. There are however, worthwhile things we must do that require time and effort without immediate feedback or reward.
In October 2012, I wrote a post titled ‘The business benefits of pruning blueberry bushes”. (If you were not among the two or three people who read it, you can check it out here.) It was another of my attempts to draw lessons from seemingly unrelated life activities. Pruning is one of those things that farmers and gardeners know is essential for plants and trees, but it has many parallels to life and business as well.
About five years ago I decided to take on the task of reviving the blueberry bushes at our family’s camp near on the Pungo Creek in eastern North Carolina. They had suffered from years of neglect and were over grown with other vegetation. I worked in the early fall and late winter by removing what did not look right – other trees and plants that had claimed space among the blueberries. Thorny vines strangled the bushes, preventing them from bearing the wonderful fruit they were intended to produce. It was real work cleaning out all the unwanted plants and trees and transferring them to the burn pile, but a welcome respite from the mental stress of running a business.
I felt the work had value, but knew it would not produce any immediate results. It might be years before I saw the result of my efforts. Knowing that if I cut too deeply, they might not survive, I took the longer view, doing a little bit of work each season. We visited some during the summer months in the years following and I watched as the bushes began to recover, yielding some fruit each year.
During this time, we also did some cleaning and pruning at Anna’s Gourmet Goodies, balancing the need to remove activities that would allow us to grow without damaging the core business. It was hard, especially after the downturn of 2007-2008, but we continued to make changes that felt right and would hopefully yield a harvest over the long term.
That process continued over the past several years and I extended it to other areas as well. Earlier in 2014, I ‘pruned’ another business interest where I had invested significant time, effort and resources. Not an easy thing, but it felt like the right thing to do, giving me more room to grow in the long term.
During these past five years, an interesting thing happened at Anna’s Gourmet Goodies. When we stop and look back at the results, an area of our business that we wanted to grow, managing birthday and anniversary gifts, has begun to flourish. We’ve added companies who choose to send birthday and/or work anniversary gifts to employees and/or customers throughout the year. They give us a list – we manage everything from there. It is something we’ve nurtured and grown. (If you know anyone interested in this service – you can send them here to learn more).
While this is clearly not ‘pruning’ for these companies, it is something they do as part of a long term view. They are nurturing relationships with the people who are critical to their business. While I’m sure they get positive feedback from some of the customers and employees about the cookies and brownies, the benefits are real but may not be immediately evident. A great harvest takes time to develop.
Life has gotten busy in the past few summers and I must admit that I have not had the chance to check on the blueberry bushes as often as I should. Last week I had the opportunity to make a trip down to the camp for a little R&R. When I walked out to the garden area to check on the blueberry bushes, it was overwhelming.
In the nearly 30 years I’ve been going down there, I remember harvesting blueberries, but not like this. I spent several hours over two afternoons picking nearly three gallons of these beautiful berries, marveling at the bounty the bushes offered up. And I am certain that the crystal blue Carolina sky, cool breezes off the creek and the summer rains will produce even more of this bounty throughout the rest of the season.
Would any of these things happened if I had not chosen to prune and clean? To make tough decisions? To do the hard work without immediate payback? Probably not.
We hope that when our customers send a gift from Anna’s Gourmet Goodies, they’ll get immediate feedback at least some of the time. Then again, they might not. I do, however, believe that when you take the longer view, somewhere down the road the harvest comes in. And if it’s anything like the yield from the blueberry bushes, you might need a bigger bowl.
P.S. I made good use of the harvest, creating a Belhaven Buttermilk Blueberry Cobbler that was mighty tasty. Here’s a link to the recipe if you’d like to try it for yourself.