Remember being in grade school and waking up early and having those first few conscious thoughts come through your mind? For me, it was either, “Oh no, I have to sit in that room all day,” or “Oh good, I get to be outside and run around today.” The environment was everything.
As I got older, it shifted to either, “Oh no, my schedule of classes today doesn’t have any of my best friends,” or “Oh good, I get to see my best friends today.” Friends became everything.
I think as adults, we perform the same early morning calculus, only now it’s about work. We think about the physical environment and our friends at work, or lack thereof, and we set our emotional outlook for the day.
So if I were starting a new business today, I’d focus on creating an enjoyable physical environment, and I’d assemble a group of friends for the journey. I’d start by planting a garden.
Why a garden? Because I enjoy working in an environment that is natural, green, alive.
Let’s face it, many corporate environments are painful to endure. Synthetic materials for desks and chairs, projectors with whirling fans, dimly lit rooms with presentation screens, metal electronic devices all over. Schedules. Powerpoints. Productivity tools. Yuck.
At a cellular level, I think people know they are harming themselves with the way modern work…works.
If you were to visit my new startup and see a garden, and you and I sat next to some plants and we discussed life, you would know something is different about this place. You would know that the company values people in a unique way.
If we met for 90 minutes, I’d spend over half the time talking about life, journeys, nature, possibilities, health, outdoors. Why? Because I believe it’s important to many people. Not everyone, maybe not even most people, but I’m not trying to hire everyone, or even most. This is a startup, and in a startup you search for just a few special people to get the ball rolling.
The garden is both a magnet and a filter. It draws people in for the reasons above. It also filters people out for the same reasons. As desperate as you feel when you start a new venture, you cannot afford to accept just anyone onto your team. You have to draw in and filter at the same time.
As good as all the trendy interview questions and AI-powered HR tools are, the best way to filter people is to have them filter themselves. You actually want most people to thank you for your time and never call you back. You want the special few people to rush back and quit their job because they’ve found what they’re looking for.
A great book on this subject is Let My People Go Surfing by Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard. His main point is to set a bold, transparent culture of what matters to you and your team and trust that the right people will be drawn to it and all the others will just smile and move on past. For example, many of the people at Patagonia like to go surfing when the waves are banging, so they let their people surf based on nature’s schedule, not the corporate one.
There have been a growing number of companies awaking to the power of nature and greenery in the workplace. Even a comprehensive study on the benefits to employees and the company. Some implementations are positive, some wither out. My guess is that if a garden is used as a tool to manipulate people, it will fade, but if it’s an authentic expression of the soul of a group of people, it will thrive and have healthy benefits.
There’s another essential reason for this garden. Our success at this new venture depends on getting the right people but it also depends on our ability to trust our authentic selves. I cannot be a poser. I cannot run around trying to guess what everyone wants and attempt to satisfy them all. I need to look inward, to listen, to be still. Then I need to be brave enough to articulate what I hear and implement what’s important to me. I need to do this or I’ll be miserable and we will fail. I also need to do it so that I model the pattern for others. I need these smart, talented, fun people to listen to their own ideas and crazy bold intuitions and at least try to implement them.
Over time I’ll only have a tiny fraction of the ideas for our company. The vast majority will come from our team members. So I need to demonstrate that getting in touch with your dreams and desires and doing something with them is not only okay—it’s vital. Their inspiration and ability to act on it, in the long run, is more important than my own. But rather than identify which is more important, the best thing is for all of us to be free with our inspiration.
So there we are, in our startup sitting next to some beautiful flowers and plants. We have some real wood chairs under our rears and we’re discussing life. Real life. Hopes, dreams, fears, aspirations, even failures. You’re either thinking a garden is stupid and the life chat is a waste of time, or you’re hearing that still, small voice in your head saying, “I found my place.” Either outcome is fantastic. We both just want to make the best life decision so we find success.
If we team up and we find a few more passionate people with their own bold visions of what could be, we might just have a chance to move to the next steps of building products, raising money, and selling our products!
It all begins and ends with people. Whatever type of environment that would make you smile when you think about it first thing in the morning, create that. And keep doing that as you grow.