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Wednesday, 9 March 2016

What doesn't grow on trees?

"Innovation doesn't grow on trees" said a tweet quoting Jonathan Webb at the Procurement Leaders congress today. #PLCongress
You know me, any mention of nature in the language we're using to describe a situation, has me exploring the landscape to find hidden meaning, and potentially new insight to the real life situation.

Let me start by saying that, other than the words above, I have no idea what Jonathan said, nor how he related the saying to the rest of his talk, which I assume was on innovation. This exploration, therefore, is simply applying innovation to growing things on trees, and let's see where that gets us.

The first rule of using metaphors in this way is to put the real life situation, in this case innovation, to one side whilst we consider the metaphor, ie the tree. It's only once we've considered growing things on trees that we can apply the real life situation to it.


So what can we say about growing things on trees?

The idea here is to be very open (innovative if you will) and not allow any thought to go unobserved, and just notice what you notice about trees, and allow any and all tangents to be explored.

My own list of observations would include:
  • Not a lot grows on any tree in the winter
  • Winter at one end of the globe means summer at the other end - so there are always trees growing something somewhere in the world 
  • The most obvious and common thing grown/produced by trees are sap, branches, bark and leaves - also blossom, seeds and fruit. 
  • Despite their lack of scarcity no leaf is the same - each is unique 
  • Bark moulds itself around the branches 
  • A tree only grows by taking in nutrients from the air, and ground 
  • Trees expel carbon monoxide, and I'm sure other nutrients etc
  • You can tell a tree's age from the number of rings 
  • A tree grows seeds to propagate itself
  • The aim is to get the seeds far away from the initial tree
  • Not all trees grow fruit
  • Fruit is grown on some trees - often containing the seeds
  • You won't grown an apple on an orange tree
  • Fruit trees often require support and hard pruning to allow for easy access to pick the fruit
  • You can grow some fruit on a different tree's roots (I can't remember what that's called)
  • Trees have deep roots that keep them grounded and safe
  • Many animals get food and shelter from trees 
  • Many other plants grow on trees - some supportive and other not (I'm thinking Japanese knotweed here)
  • In the autumn many of what grows on trees, unless they're evergreen, fall away.
  • This shedding allow the trees to survive the winter ready for new growth in the spring
  • You'll find more trees in a wood or forest
  • and so on
Just keep making observations about trees until you've had enough :-)
  • Tree wood, once properly dried, makes for good firewood
  • You won't grow a new tree once you've chopped it down
My exploration of not being able to see the wood for the trees may add something to this exploration - or it may not.

Once we've completed our exploration it's time to return to innovation. That is, to apply innovation to growing things on trees.

Please note the chances are we'll each relate to the metaphor, and innovation, differently, and notice different things ie the meaning is in the eye of the beholder. It's one reason that collaboration in this process if very helpful.

Here's my thoughts - if there was a group of us discussing this we'd find many more than the few I've listed.
  • Somewhere in the world innovation is taking place - every minute of every day.
  • Go to the wood to increase your chances of being innovative (so what conditions inspire innovation?)
  • Even if you think you're being innovative you may not get any great ideas
  • Innovation isn't just the fruit it can be about the smaller every day, and essential things like the leaves.
  • Innovation isn't just about what we can see - sometimes we need to explore the nature of things to understand what's happening below the surface. 
  • Having a clear up, followed by some quiet time, before we look for new ideas again can be a good idea.
  • Innovation may be about the collaboration we have with other plants and animals - ie nothing to do with the tree at all
  • For the innovation to be sustainable it needs to spread its seeds far afield, and have deep roots
  • We need to understand what nutrients are needed to sustain innovation 
What insight did you get about innovation having undertaken this exploration - do leave a comment below. How is that insight helpful for you today?

Other blogs exploring sayings using nature include: Bring it in from the cold,  treading on thin ice, comfort universe (rather than comfort zone), building bridges with others, over the hill, and making mountains out of mole hills.

You may also find this post interesting where I used the landscaping your life process in a business strategy development session with senior business leaders.

Alison Smith
Landscaping your life, and the Purchasing Coach too
Using nature to inspire change inside and out

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