Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Origins - How "Practical" Took Root

I have always believed strongly in systems.

Never had a choice, really, as I was born long before technology meant much and to two outspoken, fiercely independent and, sadly, incompatible parents who made their living by growing crops and raising animals. 


As a farm child, you learn that everything is interconnected and if you give insufficient attention to any one aspect of the eco system or your timing is off, you – and every other living thing depending on you and its counterparts – will suffer. 

And yes, I learned that everything is alive and has an arc, so to speak, that is natural and that you can sometimes affect.  Or at least learn to work with.  But first you have to understand that thing’s basic nature and respect its right to move through its arc – be it soil, season, water, weather, plant, critter…

Or person.

As a farm child, I learned to look for the whole, stay practical, pay attention to what each element of the whole was trying to tell me and work hard.  I learned that some things are out of your control but if you stay focused, you can survive anyway.  And if you plan ahead, you may even prosper.

Older than my contemporary’s parents, both of mine were marital veterans -  had dealt more than once with the vagaries of love and hope, betrayal and loss – long before I was ever conceived - and whatever they each managed to build for themselves during my lifetime was hard won.   In short – they were not only farmers but students of human nature.

My mother was the illegitimate child of her family’s black sheep and grew up an outsider whose key survival strategy was acute observation of everyone around her.    She “got” that there is more to any individual and any incident than the casual bystander could ever guess and taught me early on to shut up, listen and not rush to judgement.

My father was raised in poverty among the swamps of Florida, became a merchant marine at 16 then rode the rails West to follow his dreams.   “Just remember,” he was fond of saying, “if I set you on this fence post and I sit on that one, you and I will see a different cow.”   He taught me the power of understanding how someone else thinks.

At age 11 I took my first job with the local Feed and Seed Center.  There I learned that organizational power can have unintended consequences and that working for someone else is harder than it looks.

Flash forward 53 years, and here I am -  a veteran of 40 years in the field helping people understand each other, communicate and come together in the interest of their organization’s mission – 24 of those years also spent in university classrooms teaching the tenets of strategy and leadership – and I am still, fundamentally, just a farm girl.

Next time – what my clients and students have taught me about “Practical”….

See you at the Flip Chart!
-          Sylvia