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My Permaculture Transformation

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It happened so gradually, I didn’t even see the transformation taking place. A year ago, almost to the day, I was still a normal person. I could wander around outside, and just see terrain. It would be pretty, or it would be boring. It would be desert or it would be alive. It could have cows, or chickens or fences, but I would just see it as it was and move on. I was but a passerby in the great system that is our world.

 

Now, that’s different. Now when I look out at everything around me, my eyes are already mapping contours on the ground. I see where the water will flow when it rains. I see where trees can be added to a space, and how it would change that areas around it. I can estimate how much sunlight an area gets and know what to do to affect that amount. I look at bare dirt and immediately start looking for a source of mulch to cover it and start the healing process.

 

Somehow, without even realizing it, I have become a permaculturist, and there is no going back now.

 

This was spectacularly rubbed in my face last month. Last month, my wife and I took a trip from our dry and rocky desert home in Tucson, AZ to the much lusher and more livable portion of the state in the White Mountains. In the five years we have lived here, we have taken three trips up there. It is beautiful up there. In 100 square miles, you can see every type of terrain known to man. Everything from harsh desertscapes to alpine lakes to grasslands that look like Kansas. We absolutely love it, and always have a wonderful time driving around and just looking at the different landscapes.

 

Each time we go up there, we stay in the town of Show Low, as it’s the biggest community in the area. Show Low is tucked into an alpine forest, and surrounded by trees. If you drive slightly to the east, it opens out into grasslands where they graze adorable little Hereford cows, and you can see them out on the plains. In the past, my reaction was always to look out and moo at them, then drive on.

 

This time I saw the scenario with all different eyes. The trees didn’t just happen to stop and that’s where they were grazing cows, the cows had created the grasslands from destroying the trees. The cows were spread out over way too much space, and were in the process of overgrazing entire ranches. The most useful land in our state was being destroyed without purpose. Yet I didn’t see a hopeless scenario, I knew how to fix it.

 

Immediately my mind was contour mapping the properties, and breaking the grazing areas into smaller spaces for rotations. I knew the area got about 18 inches of rain in a year, which is plenty to regrow the forests. Swails could be cut into each of these pastures to catch as much rain as possible. The cows could be fast rotated through much smaller areas and create a much healthier eco system. Rather than relying on just cattle farming, these ranches could also tractor thousands of chickens through and create a second stream of income. That would help the people as well as building fertility with …

 

Crap!

 

Somehow when I wasn’t looking, my brain has become hopelessly infected with permaculture. It has passed the information consumption portion of the learning, and is now fizzing away at the incredible urge to DO something. There is no problem too big or too small, I just have an incredible urge to tackle them. If you continue with this learning.

 

I even know when it started, yet it was such a gradual change I didn’t even notice it happening to me. The knowledge just reached critical mass at some point, and it all clicked for me. Granted it was probably about 3 months after it clicked for my wife, she is a natural which is God’s way of keeping me humble, but that’s another story.

 

Last year I started listening to “The Survival Podcast” by Jack Spirko. I really wasn’t into the whole food storage and survival aspect, but he would mention permaculture every few episodes, and I was intrigued. He would talk about these two gurus, Geoff Lawton and Sepp Holzer, and how they were doing great things. This Jack guy was using their teachings to grow food in the Arkansas hot dry summer. I looked around at my hot dry Tucson summer, and figured I could learn something.

 

I got tired of waiting for more mentions of these guys, and I went straight to the source. I watched Geoff Lawton’s Urban Permaculture DVD, and it was all over. I just had to learn more. So for the last year I have spent as much time as I can poring over every scrap of information I could find on permaculture. It has saturated my brain and my being. Now, even if I wanted to, I couldn’t turn it off. Permaculture is every where, and you can see the world with new eyes.

Live each day like it’s your first

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I have officially hit the jump.  I am now in the single biggest in-between period of my life.  I have left my job, to prepare for my move to Kentucky.  I am in the process of leaving my house and my state behind, to start a new and better life in Kentucky.  I have not had such a period of unlimited potential since I have been an adult.  Even when I first moved to Tucson, and I was unemployed for 3 months, there was a tremendous and immediate pressure to get a job.  In a very short period of time, I will be doing that again in Kentucky.  For now, I am in the between phase, and that has given me some time to think.

I have a period of time that I may never have again in my life.  I can literally do anything that I want to.  I want to make use of that time to set the groundwork for our future, rather than just sitting around and watching TV.  Plus if I sit around watching TV for a month I would have to shoot myself out of boredom.  I can learn, I can read, I can build, and I can write.  So I will use it.

When we are caught up in the normal rat race of life, we feel so much pressure to not rock the boat.  We don’t want to upset the delicate balance of whatever it is that we are doing.  We might not like what we do, but dang it, it keeps the roof over our heads.  Why rock the boat?

This leads to a certain sense of fatalism in what we do.  Well, I feel that changing course will disrupt my life forever no matter what I do.  So I am going to “Live today as if it was my last”.  Then we go crazy, go get hammered, spend too much money on a credit card jetting off to the Bahamas, do something stupid, and really do wreck our lives.  So we have naturally concluded that we have to be stuck in the rat race, because if we deviate at all, it will end badly.

That’s stupid.  If we really lived a day like it was our last we would be huddled up in a panicky ball crying in terror with our family.  Because that’s the only rational way to stare death in the face, no matter what crap you believe from TV.  We think that the only way for new growth to occur is for everything else to be burned down around us.  New life can only spring from the remains of everything else.  I don’t want to work in this cubicle anymore, so I am quitting to go be a fishing guide, even though I have never fished before.

Everything is gone, so stuff can grow now.

Everything is gone, so stuff can grow now.

There is a better way, and also, a better catch phrase.  Live each day, as if it was your first.

Everything doesn’t have to burn down around us for us to change something in our lives.  We simply must decide to change.  Rather than igniting the mess that we have created around us and hoping something grows, we can start something new.  Like a seed, we can start an idea.  We can shelter it and nurture it when it is very small.  We can slowly test it and make it stronger as it grows.  When it gets big enough, we can move aside the old, and plant the new idea instead.

New Idea

Living each day like it’s your last, implies that there are no consequences to what we do, when in fact ignoring them can be horrible for us.  Instead we must live each day like it is our first, so we can always take care to leave somewhere better than we found it.  That is the key to freedom, as well as the key to a legacy.

Leadership Lifecycle

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I learned a valuable leadership lesson today, or more specifically, I was able to finally articulate a leadership lesson today, and I really felt I had to share.  I believe the entire premise of leadership in our typical corporate structure is flawed, and although I have always had this bubbling around the edges of my mind, for some reason today it snapped into focus for me.  I think this is the very reason that so many of us that are actually good at being leaders feel such a deep dissatisfaction with it.

This may be different in different organizations, but in every organization I have ever worked for, our goal is to make our selves redundant.  Your goal is to create a machine that runs so flawlessly that it can run even without your presence or attention.  On the surface this makes sense.

Our primary mission as leaders is to train new leaders under us in order to grow the machine.  The most common first step for this is to train someone to replace ourselves.  That way we can move on to bigger and better things.  After all, one of the first questions in an internal promotion interview is “Who did you train to replace you?”  From the perspective of the machine, this even makes a certain amount of sense.  Yet it doesn’t address the needs of the leader.

We often see what happens when this process fails.  No new leader is ever trained behind.  The unit stays mired in a spiral of failure.  The leader fails to address the problems of the unit to allow to growth.  The same issues arise over and over again until either the leader resigns out of frustration, disgust or shame, or the corporate machine acts out of self preservation and removes the faulty piece.  This outcome is bad for the leader, and they must start over in a new machine.

What we rarely discuss is what happens when that system succeeds, yet the life-cycle can’t move on.

Let’s say the leader succeeds.  A new leader is trained behind him.  All of the performance issues of the unit have been corrected, and the machine is able to move along with equal performance whether the leader is present or not.  No further training, coaching, or input is really required from the original.  Yet for one reason or another, that leader has no where to go.  What becomes of that person?

The more cynical or lazy among us would look at that setup and say “That person has it made.  He can show up forever, do virtually nothing, and continue to get paid for it.”  Many people would love to have that position.  A good leader isn’t one of them.

For me and so many others like me, we are only able to define ourselves professionally by the struggles we overcome.  We are put in the positions we are in because of how we react towards our team.  We want to meet the budget.  Grow our market.  Launch the new product.  We want to see our new hires sell their first item, their first 1000 items, get their first promotion.  When all of those milestones are gone, what is left?

We become the parents whose children have grow and succeeded beyond ourselves.  The linebacker whose team won the Superbowl while we were injured.  The commander whose troops have all been released.  Without people that need us, and depend on us, our entire careers have become hollow.  We have succeeded, and thus have given ourselves no meaning.  We are the pages leftover after the book has been completed.

A wise leader of mine once told me, the time to leave is after you have everything running perfectly.  That’s when you go off to find a new mess to fix.  At the time I dismissed him as crazy.  At the time, I wasn’t a leader yet.  I wish I had followed that advice.  The greatest death a man can have, is to live long enough to realize he has gotten too old.  It took me all this time to realize, that’s what happened to my career.

Today I looked on my assistant, my protege, and my best friend.  I realized that he doesn’t need me anymore.  All of my crew have learned everything I have to teach.  I saw the future without me in it.  There will be new stories written, and new victories to be had.  Yet never again will they include me.  I have passed from it being us against the world, to them against the world without me, and unfortunately, it happen while I was still there.

If you know someone that leads, and is unhappy, reach out to them.  They just want to feel needed, because they can’t know any greater professional pain than to see themselves succeed into oblivion.

Best use of a free prize EVER

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I seem to have gotten a lot of the actual anger out of my system last night for the firing of my friend, which is good.  Long term it doesn’t affect me at all, so there was no reason to walk around with bad vibes from it, especially if the person actually affected doesn’t.  Yet I still keep mulling it over in my mind, so I decided to focus instead on one of the lessons I learned from Chris over the course of working with him.

When I started this job, I thought I knew how to sell.  I had worked at the Big Blue Blinky Box for almost five years.  I knew how to sell theatre equipment and TVs.  I was a bad ass in my own mind.  Yeah.  Not so much.  Chris showed me that I was a rank amateur splashing around in the kiddie pool of sales.  This was a guy that had made a living hawking perfume in grocery store parking lots, which yeah, is exactly as shady as that sounds.  This is a guy that went down to Mexico working for Verizon to sell phones, and didn’t speak any Spanish.  I was a retail sales guy.  Chris was a Salesman (C).

To this day, I am not quite able to figure out if Chris actually believed half of the crazy crap he would spout, or if he was just trying to get a rise out of me.  I guess I will never know now.  He would give us instructions on how to handle customers that would only be forgivable if they worked, but they always did.  He was the master of being able to read someone and know what button to push to get them to jump a certain way.  A lot of what I know about business and sales is the cleaned and sanitized version of a Chris lesson.  One of the best lessons I ever saw in action was the gratuitous use of the Free Prize.

It was a Saturday, and for some reason Chris and I were working with no scrubs.  So we had to handle everyone ourselves.  A guy came in with the typical just looking strut.  Hands in pockets, big wide steps, leaned back a little.  He was signalling to the world that he wanted to waste our time.  This strut always raises my blood pressure, but not Chris.  Chris saw him as a stool pigeon just looking for a roost.

So Chris goes into the engagement.  This guy isn’t looking for anything at all.  Chris shows him one of our theatre systems.  They spend about 10 minutes standing there talking about how great it sounds and how awesome it is.  Chris isn’t even trying to close this thing.  He is just getting the customer to point out how awesome it would be in his living room.  The customer is falling into the trap of selling it to himself, and doesn’t even realize it.  So finally, the guy says something along the lines of “Yeah, that would sound awesome in there” and Chris pounces “Great, I’ll grab it and meet you up front.”

The customer realizes what just happened “Whoa, whoa, whoa.  This is the deal you give everyone, what are you gonna throw in for me?”  Chris just looks at him “So if I have some stuff to throw in, you will take it?”  Customer, “Yeah, I just need to get a deal”.  Chris says “Ok, I’ll go get some extras and bring them out with your system”.

Now we aren’t allowed to throw stuff in.  Our company prides itself on having the same prices everywhere.  No wheeling and dealing.  So I have no idea where Chris is going with this one.

A few minutes later Chris comes out with a theatre system on the dolly and a little object in his hand.  “OK, I got you a coffee mug, some dum-dums, and about 5 packets of salsa.  All yours.” Then he hands it all over to the customer, who is laughing his ass off.  They walk up front, ring out, and the guy spends about 3 grand in our store.  3 grand.  A $3,000 sale was closed on stale Halloween candy, condiment packets and a mug.  Who the heck even has the stones to try that, let alone have it work?

I learned two very important lessons that day.  First, have no fear when you are selling.  Customers are like dogs, they can sense fear.  Two, it’s much more important to make the customer feel like they beat you, than it is to actually give them a prize.  That guy didn’t actually get squat, but he felt like he negotiated hard and got it.  Maybe some lessons we can use in the homestead businesses?

Fired for doing the right thing

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Sorry that I have been absent for a few days, but I would rather not put out a product at all, than insult all of your intelligence by recycling the same ideas over and over.  With Easter weekend and a busy time at work, I haven’t had much time to put together my usual ideas.  Today though something came down the pike, that to me is simply an affront to everything I consider right about how a leader.  So I simply have to share, and try to find some way that this makes sense.

If you happen to follow my personal Facebook page in addition to The Tribal Future, you already saw me mention this, but I didn’t expound on it.  I needed some time to let this simmer and percolate.  Unfortunately, now that the time has passed.  I still can’t make hide nor hair of it.  I know this isn’t really a homesteading topic, but it’s something that affects all of us on some level.  We always say we want people to do the right thing, so why does it so often end badly for the person that does?

So today, one of my good friends and early mentor at my company way fired.  This is the guy that gave a break to a scared kid in a new city, and gave me the confidence to run a store.  I thought I knew how to sell before I met this guy, but man, I didn’t know crap.

So what horrible thing did he do to get himself fired?  Was it sexual harassment?  Was it theft?  Did he call a customer an idiot?  Did he cheat the system to get a bonus?

No.  He did the right thing for an employee, because by doing that, he made that person’s life better.  His words to me on the phone were, “If I had it to do over again, even knowing I would get fired, I would do it again”.  So is this all hyperbole spouted by an angry friend?  You tell me.

My friend Chris leads a store in Las Vegas.  One of his guys owns his own landscaping business on the side.  Times got tough for him, and the guy fell behind on his truck payments.  Obviously for a landscaper, your truck is your business.  If you lose it, you are toast.  So Chris, being a stand up guy, decided to help him out.  Did he give him a hand out?  Did he loan him money?  NO.  God forbid, Chris did the right and American thing, and hired the kid to do his front yard.

Chris helped him by giving him a job.  Isn’t that what we always say we want to happen in this country? We don’t want handouts, people should work for it.

There was no conflict here.  They weren’t competing with the company.  They weren’t effecting other employees.  They were doing nothing wrong.  Yet another employee was able to call up the Ethics people and say it was a conflict of interest.  Since landscaping and what I do on a daily basis overlap SO far.  Chris’ boss agreed that it was bullshit, and fired him anyway.  So Chris did the right thing, and lost his job.

I know this is something personal to me, so I am making more out of it than most people will, but to me that is a powerful message.  My company that I am leaving is saying that it’s not OK for us to be concerned with the welfare of our people beyond the 4 walls in which we operate.  That we need to be cold and distant, lest we be punished.  I work in an industry where the average turn over is about 3 months.  You know what Chris had created?  A lifer.  That man would have worked for us forever, because we were GOOD.

This is happening everywhere though.  The Autozone employee that got fired for saving his bosses life with a gun he had stashed in his truck, because Autozone says no guns in a personal vehicle.  People afraid to do CPR because of liability.  Telling a woman dieing of cancer that she is having excessive yard sales as she parts with her worldly possessions.  We are punishing those people for standing up for what is right.

So think about this as you go through your day.  Are you rewarding or punishing those who do good in the world?  This can be as simple or as complicated as you want to make it.  You can boycott Autozone for being stupid, or you can say Thank you when you see someone do a kindness.  The saying goes, “All it takes for evil to triumph, is for Good men to do nothing”.  Well, we seem to be encouraging that right now, so lets push the other way.