Taking Advantage of a Month of Rain

Now every lawn in New England looks like Augusta

Now every lawn in New England looks like Augusta

The school-yard chants can be heard all over New England, “Rain, Rain go away…”. Like many things in life you can’t control the weather and even though this isn’t the weather you’d choose to have – you can either gripe about or take advantage of it. I’ve chosen to do a bit of both.

While a month of cloudy rainy skies may not be new for residents of the Northwest, it’s uncommon in June in New England. Normally June is a month whose sunny skies and low humidity acts as the perfect ambassador of summer before July’s heat raises the inevitable questions as to why so many New England homes don’t have central air conditioning.

Back to the rain and clouds. A front-page Boston Globe story last week highlighted the fact that this June has been the darkest June in over 100 years and the second darkest since records have been kept. With this kind of weather only lawns and lettuces are truly happy. I’ve harvested record amounts of lettuces and mesclun with minimal amounts of effort this year. My watering can sits forlornly against the wall collecting cobwebs. As to my lawn, I’ve taken advantage of rain by reseeding and over-seeding my lawn several times even spreading compost on some bare patches. My lawn is almost vestigial known for neither its size nor its beauty. But even with it’s small size, since I garden organically, I’ve come to accept a few bare patches as a small price to pay for healthier soil and rivers. However with this weather even my lawn looks like the second cut at Augusta.

Weather is always fair game for discussion when meeting people for the first time because it’s a safe topic to broach and when you’ve had record cloudy/rainy weather people are sure to have interesting reactions. Unfortunatelythe most common one this year can’t be printed on this work-safe blog. The comments invariably mention weather that only a duck or a frog could love.

For Gardeners, the lack of sun during New England’s short growing season requires creativity in order to harvest warm weather plants like peppers, eggplants, okra and watermelon. As a Southerner I grew up direct-seeding plants right into the ground usually sometime in March after the last frost. In New England we plants seeds in March as well, only we do it inside, in seed trays and pots under grow lights or in a greenhouse. This is our only option if we want to enjoy more than a few weeks of tomatoes or any watermelons or okra. The growing season is just too short, although it seems to be getting longer these last few years with the last frosts coming earlier in the Spring and first frosts coming later into the Fall. We’ll see if this trend continues.

Cold frames, row covers, raised beds and heat retaining walls are all thingswhich allow gardeners to stretch their growing seasons pulling a second or third crop out of their soil. I’ve seen gardeners harvesting fresh vegetables in their cold frame with snow on the ground. Sure it’s more work but there is something very satisfying when you harvest a salad of organic vegetables from your garden in May when most other gardeners are looking at bare dirt waiting to plant or pulling fresh tomatoes off the vine at Thanksgiving

That same creativity in finding solutions to adverse adverse weather or growing conditions is exactly what your business or department needs to handle deteriorating economic or industry conditions. Doesn’t it always seem like you have one competitor or colleague who always seems to make their number each quarter – year in, year out. They find a way to close business and get deals done.  Sure hard work accounts for some of that success but creativity and continued innovation and experimentation are just as important. When industry conditions change you had better be ready for the new dynamic or you’ll get left on the scrap heap of dead businesses.

Rochester, NY gives us two classic examples of companies that handled changing conditions differently.

Xerox was the very model of corporate efficiency when they had a stranglehold on making copies but eventually other manufacturers innovated creating significant price pressures and competition for a company not used to having to compete on price and capabilities. Xerox had difficulties both with the increased competition and with technological changes created in part by their own R&D efforts.  Xerox may have invented the laser printer but they failed to see impact the laser printer would have eliminating the need for much of the copying done by businesses. Of course now people copy more than ever and the newest copiers scan/email/fax documents but Xerox has significant competition and it’s only been under Anne Mulcahy that they’ve recaptured some of their former market leadership. We’ll see where Ursula Burns takes Xerox when she assumes the CEO role July 1st. Hopefully she’ll succeed fabulously and continue being a great role model, given how many people will be watching her performance.

Kodak is another Rochester company that owned their market. How many companies have their products turned into iconic songs “Mama don’t you take my Kodachrome away….” and survive once that iconic product is discontinued, as Kodachrome was last week.  Kodak originally gained market dominance by innovating the photo business model. At a time when photo companies marketed chemistry, Kodak created a service with the slogan “you press the button, we’ll do the rest” – thereby opening up the photo market to anyone with some disposable income.

They leveraged this early success becoming so dominant that they almost single-handedly eliminated people mixing their own photo chemicals, and very few people, outside of niche artists, make their own photo paper or film any longer. But they foresaw the technological changes coming down the road and started developing alternatives to film very early.

Of course most of those alternatives failed miserably – remember the Kodak Photo CD introduced in 1992? Each disc could hold 100 images playable on your Kodak Photo CD player or computer.  It was a good idea, but one that was both ahead of it’s time and one that failed to be visionary enough. They were also early proponents of Digital Cameras. I was a beta tester of the DCS-100 camera back in 1991 and it felt like I was schlepping around with a camera and a car battery over my shoulder.

The camera was a modified Nikon F3 with a external unit you carried over your shoulder.

The camera was a modified Nikon F3 with a external unit you carried over your shoulder.

The DCS-100 could only take B+W images and it required you to carry around a combination storage device and battery about the size of a VCR, and the weight of a car battery.  And it could only produce a 5×7 image suitable for newspapers. Definitely a niche product. But those early cameras and efforts set the stage for a company that knew it’s dominant products, film and paper, were doomed. They looked back to their early success in making things easy for the consumer with their aptly named “Kodak Easyshare” line of digital cameras which have been successful for them.

And instead of completely resisting innovation that attacked their cash cow they’ve been able to slowly leverage some of their R&D efforts and manufacturing expertise to bring some innovation to ink-jet printers relentlessly attacking Epson and HP. They’ve had some success advertising in non-traditional markets for printers – how many TV ads do you see for ink-jet printers – which reflects their roots as a consumer mass-marketer.  Sure the transition hasn’t been easy but it rarely is when technology forces a company to change its business model. Only time will tell if their efforts will ultimately allow them to make the transition from a film company to a digital products company.

Which brings us back to the weather. Whether it’s rain, or new competitors or a shrinking customer base challenges will always come your way. Your only choice is how you will handle them. Invariably embracing and attacking those challenges with both hard work and innovation generates more success than sitting back and complaning about them. What about you? What challenges are you seeing lately and how have you overcome them both in business and in your garden? -t

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