So it’s been about 6 months. Actually, well, 8 months — 248 days to be exact (and here’s how I figured that out quickly).
I’m sad to report that the Paso Robles Grazing Project died a slow, lingering death — but it definitely taught me, or us (the team) a lot, and I made a number of great new friends along the way. I’m continuing to look for funding for the project to gather steam again under a different arrangement (or if the owner happens to sell the orchard) but for now, things are at a standstill.
Here’s the post-mortem of some reasons why it failed (or didn’t fly):
- we didn’t have any kind of income-generating model in place other than first-year workshops (and generating income from livestock/meat sales further down the road)
- we failed to take a hard look at how much time, energy and money would get drained by traveling to and from a distant site (3 hours for me)
- we tried to generate the funding we didn’t have (1) through a little-known crowdfunding platform (Experiment.com), but didn’t have the audience to back it or a big enough picture to spread the word effectively through social media; and (2) through a workshop that didn’t have enough of a combination of lead time and unique value to generate much interest
- the landowner just wasn’t in on it enough to provide any support. While the project was of interest, it wasn’t a pressing desire for him to achieve the objectives we were looking for. In short – our goals were completely different, and not compatible. No hard feelings, but it was a reality we didn’t face early enough.
- as the project lead, I just didn’t have the income support from another business or employment to provide me with the financial freedom to back this up until it got off the ground. (Although looking back, that’s probably a strength that got us out sooner than later…)
Which takes me to a point I was just pondering [while hanging laundry, because that’s where good thinking happens, right?].
Run your [anything] like an ecosystem.
No business, family, farm, relationship, individual, or anything else can run only on saved energy. When everything is going out, and nothing coming back in, IT DIES. Period. Yet I see myself doing this chronically over the last few years (okay, lifetime, but it has been more obvious as I’ve gotten older). I’m sure you can relate: you’re putting energy out into things hoping like hell they’ll pay off soon.
The problem is that that loop of input-output needs to close tightly and quickly in order to generate energy for the next step(s).
An example from nature is photosynthesis: a plant harvests a photon (packet of energy from sunlight) through a chloroplast in one of its leaves [uses it’s own energy and resources to get an input], harvests an electron from that photon [gets a payback for its effort], plugs that electron into the metabolic cycle that produces a unit of glucose [uses a unit of payback in addition to existing resources to generate an immediately usable resource] and uses that glucose as an energy source for growth, reproduction, energy for moving water, etc. [uses the created resource to provide further growth that increases its overall growth capacity].
From an ecosystem standpoint, we each need to determine the niches in which we best operate. While even in nature there are generalists and specialists [e.g. crows and ravens can eat an enormous variety of foods; koalas survive on bamboo shoots of a single species], even the broadest generalists need to have some level of niche. Depending on the environment, that niche can be narrowed down to the extreme – or broadened to allow the organism to survive under a huge array of conditions. I could spend all day giving examples: trees that can tolerate both drought and flooding (e.g. many trees in Amazonian flooded forests), so long as each has its limited duration; birds that specialize on only a certain size and type of seed (e.g. crossbills); fish that live entirely off of parasites that grow on other fish (e.g. cleaner wrasses).
Each of these has developed a unique set of adaptations particularly geared towards its success within that environment and ecological niche. There is a range of variation that allows individuals with slightly different characteristics to survive (and when that variation increases the likelihood that its offspring will survive to reproduce, that’s evolution), but beyond that range, things go downhill: efficiency of movement, feeding, hunting, or mating decreases; the amount of energy spent in trying find needed resources increases; there are fewer offspring produced, if any at all; and you’re more likely to be preyed upon because you’re spending so much time just looking for what you need to survive.
I know – I’ve been there. Some days, I still catch myself being there: too many projects stacked on my plate, too many different directions and not entirely sure where to start: because I don’t know where the food is.
From a business perspective, that’s where things like finding and knowing your niche, your ideal clientele (and their budgets), your offerings and products, and understanding your own value, financial burn rate, and how the activities you do fit into the bigger picture all come in handy. In a nutshell, they form your ecosystem:
- your clients are your food; usually we call it our “bread and butter”, but they’re what puts food on our tables. [Of course that doesn’t mean devouring them… in fact, that’s a short-sighted, losing strategy that many businesses still engage in. Your best customers are the ones that feed you well and are happy to stick around.]
- the businesses, communities, and even global circumstances — and everything in between – form your environment in the broadest sense; but that’s like saying the environment of a bird is the sky. The trick is to identifying your personal environment – the things that influence you and your decisions, that you need to be aware of in order to effectively cultivate your proper niche and make good choices.
- your products and services are your offspring: the things you need to nurture, feed properly, and that will carry your business on to the next generation. But here’s the catch: if they don’t become, at some point, capable of reproducing offspring themselves — whether that’s new products, services, clients, whatever – then they’re effectively an evolutionary dead-end. They go nowhere. While they may contribute to your ecosystem in the short-term, they’re not doing much long-term, and you may need to critically consider whether or not they’re worth the time and energy that you could spend doing other things… like getting more food.
Certain birds, such as eagles, produce two offspring: but the second rarely survives, because the first born, larger and stronger by the time its sibling is born, uses it as a food source, and then is able to command all of the attention and food provisions of the parents. Keep that in mind next time you’re trying to decide whether or not to kill or keep a minor “second sibling” project.
For sure, my current ecosystem is a bit of an overgrown jungle and I’m leaping about like twelve monkeys trying to decide if I want to live on birds, or fish, or little frogs and bugs, or grow some bigger-monkey limbs and learn to take down a deer twice my size.
I’m thinking about this in terms of my clients, too. Going through their goals, values, skills, and a detailed inventory of their likes and dislikes, I get to thinking about what their operations would look like if they considered themselves part of an ecosystem. Of course this is all part of holistic thinking, but applying it more specifically – and also, writing it down – helped me think about it in more detail.
Where are you at? What does your ecosystem look like? I’d love to hear from you, and yes, I read every email. Post in the comment section or shoot me a message at email@example.com.