autumns seem that season of beginning, spring – Truman Capote

Learning in unlikely places

Published on November 25, 2019

What I love about the work that I do is that it keeps me thinking, even when I’m not working. Reading Wilding by Isabella Tree recently, I was struck by how many similarities there are between a 20 year re-wilding project and the work that we do at Fairisle, though on the face of it the two may look very different.

Published by Pan/Macmillan, the book describes “the return of nature to a British farm”. As I read, it struck me that the book was describing all the qualities that need to be present if a change is going to succeed. So what were the most useful reminders?

  • Trust in processes – Isabella Tree refers often to trusting in the natural processes that the farm was encouraging as it moved away from intensive agricultural practices. Likewise, much of the work we do is about setting the conditions for effective change and ensuring that processes are in place to support teams effectively as they move into new ways of working.
  • The presenting issue is often not the problem you really need to resolve – in the case of the farm, there was an assumption that difficulties in yield were down to out-dated farming methods, though this was not in fact the case. We will often find the same. A client will come with a problem they want resolving but after some discovery work it becomes clear that there is something else that needs addressing first.
  • Resistance is often not about the change that is being made, but an expression of dissatisfaction with other challenges – when writing about resistance from their neighbours, Isabella Tree understands that it may be easier to voice opposition to the rewilding project than tackle the complex and impactful challenges presented by EU bureaucracy or government policy. Similarly, we find resistance comes in many forms and find it helpful to understand where it’s coming from and why.
  • Sometimes, it’s important to not do things – this isn’t easy, but part of leading change effectively is knowing when it is useful to make an intervention and when it is more helpful to either to ‘sit on your hands’. Or even just stop doing something.
  • Be creative when things get difficult – it was only when all other options had been exhausted did the family consider alternatives to traditional agriculture. It’s often only when things get really challenging that we become open to possibilities which would have been unthinkable in other circumstances.
  • There will always be unexpected outcomes – when setting out with the project, Tree describes hoping for ‘a small increase’ in biodiversity but the book describes how the project had all sorts of other interesting and unexpected benefits along the way. Again, we’ll start working with a team with one objective in mind and through working together find that other benefits quickly become apparent.
  • Humility is essential – a willingness to admit you’ve got it wrong, along with an understanding that you don’t have all the answers, will get you further than anything else. Accepting help from others, acknowledging the skill of experts and, in this case, letting nature take its course, all demonstrate exceptional strength.

Lessons like these are simple to identify. But we also know that being attentive to what is closest to you in order to make the changes that you want can sometimes take a bit of courage, so we’re here to help. Get in touch!