I can’t believe I just listened to a 50-minute podcast about growing tomatoes

Not only that I listened, but I enjoyed it.

Not only that I enjoyed it, but I realized some surprising similarities to marketing and entrepreneurship.

To be clear, there’s nothing remotely wrong about tomato gardening.  No real reason I should’ve been shocked I listened to the podcast, other than it’s just a random topic (for me).  The podcast could’ve similarly been about anvil making, the physics of building a house or cards, or competitive scrabble (btw, here’s a great book on the topic – http://amzn.to/1n69Hga )

Full disclosure: I didn’t actually stumble upon this podcast, but rather my cousin Farnaz is a lecturer at UC Santa Cruz, and she had sent our family a link to an interview she did on the Delicious Revolution podcast (link at the bottom).

If that already reminds you of the Saturday Night Live NPR skit with Ana Gasteyer and Molly Shannon – made famous when Alec Baldwin came on to talk about his Schweddy balls, join the club.  With a name like “Delicious Revolution,” recorded with 2 hosts (in this case a man and a woman) in Santa Cruz – the mecca of “earthiness” – and talking about gardening and tomatoes…well, let’s just say I had my own SNL flashback (and my own assumptions) before I even got started.

But my wife and I had a long drive home from California Adventure.  And so I hit “Play.”

And what do you know, I was captivated.

My interests in general are pretty diverse.  I subscribe to the philosophy of studying topics in non-core areas.  Oftentimes, learnings and insights come from marrying two seemingly unrelated topics.  Not to mention, I just like broadening my exposure to new topics.

But not in my wildest dreams (prejudice duly-acknowledged) would I have expected to hear so many similarities between gardening and entrepreneurship.  Though in retrospect it makes sense.

Farnaz is not only an excellent writer but also a particularly articulate speaker.  This is key to making any topic engaging for both devoted and newbies on a topic.

It was no surprise, then, that I was drawn in, particularly as she described the concept of creating something from nothing.

Many business owners talk about planting seeds, whether ideas or networking with others.  They then nurture those seeds until they have grown into something big.  With gardening, however, it is LITERALLY ABOUT PLANTING SEEDS! Simple, but basic comparison.  Check.

Not only that, but she talked about how she had to consider what seeds to plant given the climate in Santa Cruz.  Not surprisingly, certain types of tomatoes need particular environments in order to flourish. Again, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the connection to running a business.   Some concepts are better-suited to certain geographies, times of year, etc.

Farnaz talked about how she got into gardening.  She took a class where they learned some of the basics and fundamentals about gardening.  Then the instructor gave the students a bunch of seeds and sent them on their way.  At some point, each student had to make a simple decision to actually plant the seeds.  That sounds simple, but how many times have all of us NOT taken that simple first step, whatever the context?

Perhaps it was a combination of skill and luck, but she found success with that first set of seeds.  She actually got tomatoes to grow, and they tasted pretty good.  Early success oftentimes breeds confidence.  Though by no means do those who achieve success achieve it on their first attempt. Sound familiar?

As her hobby grew, people were drawn to her tomatoes.  I think everyone here can relate to enjoying good food, especially fresh fruits and vegetables.  (The discussion of whether a tomato is a fruit or vegetable will have to wait for another day.  I wrote both to satisfy both camps.) So it is no surprise that her friends also took an interest, albeit from the consumption side, in her progress. Certainly not exclusive to gardening here again.

And then I heard some words about something so many entrepreneurs discuss: the concept of abundance and sharing.  It feels so great to create something out of nothing.  What is equally, if not more, gratifying is in realizing that we live in a world of abundance and that it feels great to share one’s wisdom, wealth, and time.  In my cousin’s case, it was a matter of sharing fully-grown tomatoes as well as seeds.

Which naturally leads to the reality of trying to grow something.  Inherent in doing so is that not everything will succeed.  Some seeds will grow, and some won’t.  Regardless of how much intention, time and care you put in.  Farnaz actually used the words “testing” and “failure” in describing gardening.  Those are words that I think resonate quite strongly with most marketers.  But that I would not have necessarily associated with tomato gardening.

Testing in gardening might simply be trying new seeds.  It might be putting different seeds next to one another (more on that one in a moment).  Or it could be testing the same seeds in different locations or soils.  Some tests worked and some didn’t.  But I got a pretty strong sense that she actually has a pretty methodical and documented testing approach.  Again, these are characteristics prevalent in strong marketers.

Testing also provided an opportunity for personal exploration.  Farnaz described herself as not particularly artistic.  Even though her mom (and mine in fact) is an interior designer, Farnaz never felt she had that strong of an artistic talent.

So where is the creativity in growing tomatoes? It could be deciding which tomatoes to plant (and then grow) next to one another, so that the garden actually looks colorful.  Or it could be what happens when two different types end up crossing streams to create a hybrid tomato that tastes and looks really good.  Sometimes, creativity happens by mistake.  But you have to put forth the effort to have that chance.

One of the final points she made was how gardening has helped her writing.  It was the strong feeling, almost requirement, as a writer to be original.  Writing is in many forms an art.  And most artists feel like they are frauds (my language not hers) if they are not being truly original or if their work looks and feels too similar to others’.  But what is originality anyways? And how many artists, and certainly businesses, have found their own place by modelling (note that is NOT the same as copying) off of someone else who has had success but by putting their own twist on it? Fascinating that gardening relieved Farnaz of at least part of that burden.

Too often entrepreneurs feel like they need to build from scratch.  Whether it is the actual concept, business model or the marketing funnels, there’s this sense that it’s only valid if it is entirely new.  When in fact the smarter and better approach is to NOT recreate the wheel but to model off of those we respect (translation: are jealous of).

Again, it’s pretty cool that gardening could help someone see that the need for true originality can be stifling and prevent someone with great talent from creating something phenomenal.

The final point that stayed with me from the podcast was my cousin’s description of two essential keys in her life: 1) that she wants to make things: and 2) how important relationships are for her.

These are two of her primary needs.

No doubt, most of us – whether we are gardening tomatoes, trying to build a business, or “simply” raising children – can relate to those two needs.  We want to know that our time here has been fruitful (no pun in intended) and that we had people who were meaningful in our lives. And vice versa.

Those are needs that transcend interests, time and geography.

Thank you, Farnaz, for sharing your story. And for reminding me that while people’s interests may be different, our reasons for pursuing them, and what we get out of them, may in fact be more similar than we realize.


Link to podcast:   apple.co/1mHqV35

A great piece that Farnaz wrote: The Color of the Bricks

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