A couple of years ago I met up with Alex Osterwalder for the first time at the Lean Startup Conference in Amsterdam. I’d known about Alex of course and read his books and I was excited to chat with him in person. I found him to be generous and friendly. Our conversation stayed focused on mostly professional topics including building, running and maintaining a consulting business. Alex introduced me to a concept that I wasn’t explicitly aware of before. He said that, with any business, you have to think of it like farming, “There is a planting season and there is a harvest season.”
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Clarifying, he said that planting season is the time where you invest in your business and your ideas. This is the time for experimentation, innovation and, most importantly, creation. In a metaphorical but very real way you are explicitly making the time and effort to “plant the seeds of the next season of your work.” You start to consider things like:
- Where is the professional conversation headed?
- What can I contribute to it now?
- What don’t I know that I need to learn in order to stay in that conversation?
- How can I continue to meet the needs of my customers as they change and evolve in the face of current events?
- What are new delivery channels I might explore to help reach a broader audience?
- How might I differentiate myself in the coming season?
- What should I maintain and perhaps invest in further?
Armed with these questions, you then use planting season to create and run your experiments. You plant some seeds (not entire fields) and see what grows, where there might be interest and where you might want to invest further. These “seeds” can include:
- content experiments (tweets, LinkedIn articles, short blog posts, threads, etc)
- marketing experiments (landing page tests for new services, email list sign up pages for new content, etc)
- testing some new product or service offerings at a small scale (offer an existing client a free trial of something you’ve considered offering)
- Creating new materials like talks, presentations, podcasts or books and sharing clips and snippets as you go along (i.e., creating in public)
- …and anything else you might be considering as you evolve your practice forward
As the data starts to come in on these seeded experiments you get a sense of what you’ll actually double down on in the future. That future is your harvest season. The seeds that have born fruit — the ones that have resonated with an early audience, generated a meaningful level of interest or evolved into a more relevant offering — these are the ones we harvest. Idea harvesting is different in that we’re not “cutting down” the ideas in a finite quantity but rather we are doubling-down our investment in those ideas with the express purpose of growing them further, distributing them further and exploiting their potential. This is when we market, advertise, sell and deliver.
Consulting businesses (and arguably most businesses) are cyclical. There is a clear ebb and flow to the work. Looking at these cycles in terms of planting and harvesting seasons makes it easier to give ourselves permission to take the foot of the gas for a bit, explore some new directions, collect new data and then push forward with renewed confidence and energy. It not only renovates what we offer our market and audience in a more relevant and timely way, it reinvigorates us and the work that we do so that we’re always delivering the best work of our lives.