Gardening in a social innovation ecosystem

“All gardening is personal. Don’t try gardening the whole organization. Tend to people and situations one at a time and spend time meeting them where they are. They are part of the ecosystem you need to understand.”

“Gardening should feel like flow. If it feels like you’re pushing a boulder in a swamp, then you’re trying to do Nature’s role. If it feels like work – stop, breathe out, give up on the result and go back to Sensing. It takes a lot of trust to give up, but your role as the gardener is to water the plants, not to build a tomato.”

Brad Johnson, who I met last year at the Authentic Leadership in Action (ALIA) in Halifax, Canada, uses this lovely metaphor of gardening to explain how he approaches social innovation and change management. You cant push against the grain. You can only plant the seeds and wait for them to grow. Only so much is under your control. You also have to let nature take its course.

“Don’t confuse your role with that of Nature. Let Nature grow the garden. Give up being attached to results. It is much easier and more creative when you are surprised by what happens next.”

A few if his ideas from his article ( on how to approach change in big eco systems are given below

  • People won’t see what is obvious to you. You see what could be, what is ready to happen, where the potential is. Allow that people see ideas in their own time.
  • Non-attachment to results means not chasing people; go in the direction where the energy is moving. This is easier when there are many seedlings to pay attention to. Visit the herbs, the flowers, and the potatoes. It is easier to leave one plant when there are others to visit.
  • Work with the other gardeners in the ecosystem. Be transparent about the different roles you play. Having no authority, beyond the value of the ideas I offer, allowed me to work across the silos in our organization in ways not available to my colleagues.
  • Gardens have regular seasons and cycles of growth. In organizational ecosystems the seasons can overlap and one cycle may be at its height when another is slowing. Hold in your awareness of the long cycle that the warmth of spring follows the darkness of winter.

Read more from Brad’s article here His story and lesson is delightful.

Image credit – Simon Howden –