I’m not a gardener. But my mother-in-law is, and so is my wife. So we have beautiful plants and gardens at our home, that I have the privilege to enjoy every time I walk up the front sidewalk, or into the backyard, or on our patio.
In university settings, in non-profits, with business and industry, and government, though, I am a gardener. I didn’t realize what it was until I read Seth Godin’s blog entry Gardens, not buildings. Godin notes great projects, careers, and relationships are like gardens that grow and change over time, requiring pruning, planting, letting things grow or die, but most importantly, allowing them to be gardens. He’s right. I’ve done that with projects, with teams, and with entire institutes and organizations. It’s incredibly rewarding, sometimes saddening, but always interesting.
One thing Godin didn’t cover, though, was the role of pollinators, and particularly cross-pollination. Moving ideas from one area of the garden, project, institute, organization, or university to another, and into business and industry or the community broadly. Sharing ideas and opportunities, and waiting for them to come to fruition in the garden. Pollination happens at informal lunches, coffee shops, conferences, and other convenings. It happens over happy hours. At football or basketball or even lacrosse games (I’m an Iowan, we didn’t know what lacrosse was when I went to high school). Places and times when people discuss their lives, their work, and their passions. One comment leads to another, a shared story or insight prompts another discussion, discovery of another related project or idea. Then the magic happens – new projects or collaborations bear fruit.
I have the opportunity to cross-pollinate ideas often, and those are the days I learn the most. I hope they are the days others learn the most from me.