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Business Lessons from a Botanist

March 19, 2015

 

Did you notice who the birthday girl was on Tuesday? Google did, and I am glad that the Google Doodle drew attention to this amazing lady.  

 

Two hundred and sixteen years after the birth of Anna Atkins, her contributions to both the botanical sciences and the art of photography are so notable that some believe she may have been the first woman to create a photograph and the first person to use photography to illustrate scientific specimens.

 

While transporting fruits and vegetables on a refrigerated trailer seems miles apart from stunning scientific photography, there are actually some interesting parallels between the two subjects.  Not only are the processes similar at times, but definitely the extra effort required to accomplish great work can be equal in both situations.

 

As I briefly read a few of the articles written about Anna I noticed that she had three character attributes that if applied and practiced routinely, anyone can start to see truly beautiful results in their work.

 

Before I mention these three qualities, I do think it is important to note that Anna didn’t seem to be determined to draw notoriety for being the first female to accomplish something extraordinary.  It seems like it is more about her ability to bloom where she was planted (no botanical pun intended.)

 

Growing up in her father’s scientific world, she undoubtedly was exposed to processes that gave her the tools to find, and illustrate answers to all sorts of questions.  It was her quest to learn about and then ultimately share these results with others that becomes the reason we celebrate her and her outstanding accomplishments.

 

I wonder if...

 

The first thing that seems to stand out about Anna is her curiosity. Algae located in the British Isles was her specialty, and as she collected these seaweed specimens she began to ask questions about methods of illustrating them. After doing a bit of 19th century networking, she connected with the inventors of what would later be known as ‘blueprints’ and decided to give this process a go. The rest is history.  

 

In my world of moving produce via truck, many transportation answers start ‘hypothetically’ in the sense that we too ask ‘who, what, when, where and why’ questions. I have been given some of the more interesting freight opportunities because I enjoy thinking with our customers and truck clientele about a problem and the possible solutions. It is very rewarding to have what at first seems like a ‘not gonna work’ situation turn into something that works beautifully.  

 

Conversely, also on a personal note, it’s when I stop asking questions that I get bored and impatient, or worse, unwilling to try to work a problem out. Curiosity begins with a genuine ‘well maybe we could try this,’ which so often can produce very rewarding outcomes. The load is picked up and delivered as ordered and everybody who had a part in a complicated situation ends up happy and satisfied.

 

Down to the Nitty Gritty

 

One of the factors that led Anna to press on in her search for the best technology of the day to illustrate her seaweed was her determination to show details.  In her own words,

 

 

Photo Credit: The Royal Society

“The difficulty of making accurate drawings of objects so minute as many of the Algae and Confervae has induced me to avail myself of Sir John Herschel’s beautiful process of Cyanotype, to obtain impressions of the plants themselves, which I have much pleasure in offering to my botanical friends.”  Anna Atkins, 1843

 

Anna saw and appreciated the value of details.  She understood that the details created the whole picture and gave it definition.  From her comment about the difficulty of capturing the smallest of details we can assume that she knew that without them, the illustrations would be lacking and incomplete.

 

Here we are, hundreds of years later, noting her detailed work. She has brought great admiration and certainly delight to both scientists and artists alike.  Even non botanists and aesthetically challenged people like myself can appreciate the intricate blue seaweed illustrations.

 

Details are the warp and woof of quality produce transportation.  Just like in Anna’s scientific art projects, the smallest pieces of information can be valuable. Often, not noticing them  or appreciating their value can compromise a customer’s load or a carrier’s delivery, which is the equivalent of an incomplete illustration.

 

I was blessed to have been trained under the master of detail management, Jack Pardue.  To this day, people who worked with him over 30 years ago remember his style of gathering information and using it to serve his customers and carrier clientele.  It was from Jack that I learned to appreciate the beauty of a well organized load of produce.  It’s all about the details.

 

Patience Is a Virtue…

Anna’s persistence in completing her book, to her own standards, are worth noting. She started her work sometime in 1843 and completed it in 1853. Ten years and 389 illustrations later (with text) she finally published her first completed work. That is a long time and lots of pictures of seaweed. Who would have thought that the icky, stinky brown weedy stuff that catches on our legs in the surf could be so beautiful? And so many kinds of it!  

 

As I mentioned earlier, the best transportation service rests on attention to details.  Learning what they are and knowing what to do with them is not usually a quick process.  There is much to gain from asking lots of questions and working hard to get the right answers.  Every customer and carrier has some unique need that becomes a valuable detail in doing great work with them and for them.  And in my experience, even the most simple of loads have a few parts that require focus, energy and time.  

 

Lasting Impressions

 

It’s quite an accomplishment to have one’s work be noticed and considered significant in any field.  It’s even more notable when one’s contributions are recognized as being so innovative that they are making impressions hundreds of years later.

 

To me, the best part of the story seems to be that this woman understood the value of her work, and through a combination of her curiosity, her fascination with details and her determination to complete her task she has now left quite a legacy that is worth serious study and appreciation.

 

While I am not sure that my work will leave a lasting impression like Anna’s, I am certain that if I and my fellow colleagues in the business of moving produce follow her example, it will make a notable difference in the lives of the people who choose to work with us.  

 

Good luck, and be curious, detailed and determined!

 

(Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

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