Better Business through Tomatoes

Saturday, I had the pleasure of being a judge in this year’s annual Great Tomato Taste Off, held at the Poulsbo Farmers’ Market. I sampled 43 tomatoes, and was surprised by the nuanced flavors and scents of this humble garden staple. I grew some pretty nice tomatoes myself this year, and was pleased by my success (not an annual feat in the Pacific Northwest, thanks to relatively cool summers.) But after tasting some of those contest entries, I learned something.

I don’t know nearly as much as I thought I knew about growing tomatoes.

Life is like that. Just when you think you know something well, you get an opportunity to find out there is more to learn. I know some find that frustrating; I find that fascinating. I can think of nothing more fulfilling than to always be learning something new. Or more about something old. When my brain is challenged, I’m having fun.

Recently, I took a week-long course in the basics of economic development. No particular reason other than I thought it would be fun. It was. I was challenged in ways I hadn’t imagined. It was like being back in college, only without the pressure of grades or the temptation of parties. I learned—again—that there is so much more to learn. Will I take the next level courses in this same field? Maybe. Or maybe I’ll find something new to learn. I took a course in celestial navigation once, and never intended to be stranded in the middle of an ocean without electronics. But what I learned about a compass and a sextant gave me a great analogy one time with an otherwise stubborn client.

You never know when something you learn will become something to share. Like a good tomato.



Facilitation is like wine—aged is usually better than boxed

Facilitate, mediate, negotiate. All great words to describe how to get to consensus when dealing with diverse groups. I’m a good facilitator. I’m also good at running productive meetings. But I can’t do both. Not well. No one can.

I’m amazed at the number of times a potential client will call to see if I can help. Turns out he or she tried to facilitate a critical meeting—something like a board retreat, or a reorganization planning meeting—and the whole thing fell apart. Sometimes, the situation was made worse. Sigh… I’ve seen it time and again. 

Facilitation is like wine, in that there are all flavors. You can run a meeting and call it “facilitation,” then wonder why you didn’t get the results you’d hoped for. That happens a lot when The Boss calls the meeting, acts as facilitator, then expects the attendees—her staff—to engage candidly. Maybe wine is a bad analogy…it’s more like a high-wire act. You balance the talkers with the thinkers, drawing practical input from both. You plan your approach, but know to be nimble and flexible should the wind blow from an unexpected direction. You watch for the tiniest of pebbles that could cause it all to collapse. You keep one eye on the nuances and body language that are happening right now—and the other on the goal or outcome that your client really needs.




Maybe it’s like drinking wine while walking a high-wire. Yeah, that’s it!

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