Posted on July 17, 2014 @ 10:58:00 AM by Paul Meagher
Some business gurus will tell you that in order to succeed in business you need to work longer and harder than your
competitors. Forget the 40 hr week, you should be working 60 to 80 hrs a week on your business at minimum.
The same could be said for being successful at farming. A lazy farmer is likely to be an unsuccessful farmer and
it is the go-go-go farmer that is more likely to build a successful farming enterprise. They put in the long hard
hours and that is why they are successful, or so the story goes.
Is it possible to be successful without all the work? Perhaps the excessive amount of work you are doing is causing you to
be unsuccessful? Perhaps the excessive amount of work is telling you something about the viability of your business? If
you have to work this hard to make a go of it, perhaps it is too much work?
There may be an alternative paradigm for growing a business rooted in green philosophy. That paradigm leads to a type
of business called a Natural Business, by analogy with Natural Farming.
You can learn about this natural approach by reading the book
The Natural Way of Farming: The Theory and Practice of Green
Philosphy (1985) by Masanobu Fukuoka.
In this book, Masanobu espouses a different method of farming with the goal of letting
nature do its thing on the farm and to intervene as little as possible. There is still lots of work to do in order
to make the farm produce an income to support itself and its workers, but the work is of a different sort. Specifically,
it does not involve 1) cultivation, 2) fertilizing, 3) weeding, and 4) pesticides. If you are growing grains, fruits, and
vegetables, then not having to engage in activities related to the above 4 practices leaves you with some serious time
on your hands in order to engage in other activities around the farm (like enjoying and connecting with it instead of always working it).
Masanobu's approach was to find methods of growing grains, vegetables, and fruits that produced a yeild yet did not require
all the work we normally put into growing them. His not-so-hidden agenda was to demonstrate that by working with Nature
instead of trying to control it through reductionist science, you were able to get comparable if not better yields with
alot less work and a whole host of benefits that you don't get through a western science approach (richer soil, more
biodiversity, healthier plants, clean water, spiritual connection, etc...).
There is a very deep vein of skepticism in the book about our ability to know the world through our mental models which
is probably why it has not received the degree of serious study that it should have in philosophy, agriculture, and, I would
argue, business. His critique of the pretensions of western scientific knowledge is one of the most devastating I have ever
read. Forget Wittgenstein, read Masanobu if you really want to have your conceptual foundations rocked.
The skepticism, however, is critical to giving into the natural way of business. If you come with too many preconceptions
and scientific theories about how things should be done (and there are no shortage of these), then you will not be looking
for or attuned to the natural vibe of your business. That natural vibe is found by observing more and intervening less
and seeing what happens. It is found by questioning whether you really have to intervene, whether the work
is really necessary, whether things might just take care of themselves if given a chance. There is also alot of
experimentation to see what works without much intervention. These become your natural lines of business.
One way to explore the concept of natural business would be to think about your business as a garden that you are currently
cultivating, fertilizing, weeding, and applying pesticides to.
The four principles of natural farming/business are simply stated:
- No cultivation.
- No fertilizer.
- No weeding.
- No pesticides.
Larry Korn advises that Masanobu is here using a traditional japanese method of teaching to stretch the student's thinking about farming. Masanbou's farming methods includes some weeding for young plants but ideally none as they grow older.
What are the equivalents of these 4 practices in your business?
Are you afraid of the chaos that might ensue if you stopped doing any one of these in your business? A certain amount
of chaos is part of a natural business. It is a balance between your will and nature's way.
I highly recommend this book for its philosphical content, practical information on farming, and very thought provoking
diagrams. The book contains some of the best systems diagrams I have ever encountered. Ironic indeed from someone who
claims to know so little about the world.
If you want to learn more about the productivity of Masanobu's farm, and his genius, I'd recommend reading the recent article Fukuoka's Food Forest by prolific permaculture author Eric Toensmeier.