Years ago a mentor of mine explained that the world, like an orchard, was divided into two groups: planters and pickers.

The planters, he said, see something that doesn’t exist and go to work cultivating thesoil, putting in seeds and plants, protecting their crop from weather, insects and other enemies.

Planters vigilantly nurture their fields despite risks and setbacks. Eventually, this sustained effort pays off as a great reward.

Pickers, on the other hand, arrive after the long months or years of labor and remove the fruit from the trees. Their involvement and financial reward is much smaller.

Pickers are interested in immediate gratification—no matter how meager. Pickers are not suited to the entrepreneurial life.

From the moment I heard this analogy, I knew which group I wanted to join. What distinguishes a planter from a picker? Here are four traits that set planters apart.

See Possibilities

Bugsy Siegel is credited with turning the desert town of Las Vegas into an entertainment destination. In a documentary on the history of that city, the narrator talked about Siegel’s vision and how alone he was in thinking something so unlikely would happen.

“Where others only saw sand,” said the narrator, “he saw a playground.”

Stephen Covey reminds us that one of the habits of highly effective people is they begin with the end in mind. That’s true for any kind of planter. No matter how far away the end may be, that vision is present at the beginning stage of any undertaking.

Plant a Lot

When I was putting in my first garden, my Aunt Agnes came to assist me. After we’d planted rows of vegetables, we still had a large corner that we hadn’t used. “Let’s just broadcast the flower seeds over there,” she advised.

I didn’t know what broadcasting meant, but she quickly explained it was scattering the seeds in no particular order. When my garden sprang to life, it had tidy rows of plants and  a wild flower patch at the end.

That garden was a lot like successful businesses: some parts are tidy and others are wild. The important thing is to keep planting seeds, making new connections, trying out new ideas, using different methods.

The neat and tidy parts will be satisfying while the wild and unruly parts will add surprise and color.

You’ve heard it said hundreds of times: you reap what you sow. In business, unlike horticulture, planting is a perpetual activity, not a seasonal one.

Protect Your Plantings

Cowards abandon their dreams at the first challenge leaving them to wither and die. Maybe they don’t understand that dreams, like seedlings, are fragile things and need protection from the assaults on their growth.

Just as plants need proper temperature, light and humidity for optimal growth, you need to create the conditions that nurture your dreams. You also need to protect them from damaging forces.

When actress Hilary Swank was asked about dropping out of high school at the age of 15,  Swank said that she had several teachers who kept telling her to give up her little acting hobby.

Even those who weren’t so overtly discouraging played a part in Swank’s decision, she said. “I couldn’t get inspired by teachers who didn’t want to be there.”

Recognizing the damaging forces and removing our dreams from those situations is equally important if we expect to bring our own to fruition.

Enjoy the Growing

The planters among us are wise enough to know that each stage of growth is necessary. They don’t look at their seedlings and demand an immediate  bushel of fruit.

Paul Hawken, who once said that all entrepreneurs should study horticulture to learn how to run a business, writes, “I am constantly reminded that plants that grow too fast are not really healthy, and that plants growing too slowly are not thriving, either.

“If you try to speed your business up, you won’t get it right and will have to do it over….Do you want to be a mushroom or an oak tree? Spores beat out acorns every time in growth rates, but never in longevity or durability.”

Then there’s this lovely image from Dawna Markova:

To live so that that which comes to me as seed

Goes to the next as blossom

And that which comes to me as blossom

Goes on as fruit.


I’ve been going through 25 years of back issues of Winning Ways newsletter to gather my favorite articles that I’m collecting for an e-book. I came across this one from 1990 and thought it was worth sharing here as well.

“April is the cruelest month,” mused T.S. Eliot. Obviously, he wasn’t around in October. While the weather had been magnificent, many people were not so inclined. For background noise there was the nightly news with an unrelenting stream of stories about war, recession and political nastiness.

Closer at hand were the two women who left their manners at home when they came to my English tea class and the burglar who removed the battery from my car.

Staying positive in a negative world is challenging even in normal times, but this felt as if guerilla tactics were in order. Here are some of the most helpful I’ve found for getting past negative times and creating positive ones.

° Bombard yourself with positives. Overcompensate. Sondra Ray has a wonderful affirmation that goes, “Every negative thought immediately triggers three more powerful positive ones.”

If things are looking dim, consciously create the opposite thought. Keep your favorite books of inspiration close at hand and read at random during crisis moments.

° Take a proactive stance—and keep it. Nobody does a better job of explaining proactive vs. reactive behavior than Stephen Covey.

In his classic The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People he writes, “Proactive people focus their efforts on the things they can do something about. The nature of their energy is positive, enlarging and magnifying causing their circle of influence to increase.

“Reactive people, on the other hand, focus on the weakness of other people, the problems in the environment, and circumstances over which they have no control. Their focus results in blaming and accusing attitudes, reactive language and increased feelings of victimization.”

If you need more information about moving into a proactive position, revisit Covey’s book for practical suggestions.

° Indulge a passion. One year, I created two challenges for myself: to discover all the ways that chocolate and raspberries could be combined and to see all of the Monet paintings I could with my own two eyes. Both of these quests added hours of pleasure when I was traveling—and when I was not.

I highly recommend you give yourself a similar challenge.

° Catch someone doing something right and let them know. I noticed a woman at the airport in Chicago wearing a smart outfit. When she reappeared in Minneapolis, I walked up to her and told her I’d been admiring her clothes. She thanked me and said, “You can probably tell by my accent that you’d have to go a long way to get one for yourself.”

“Where are you from?” I inquired. When she told me London was her hometown, I said, “Oh, but I’m going there next month!”

I came away with a warm feeling and a great shopping tip.

° Take yourself on a mini-retreat. Sometimes the only way to diffuse negative energy is to move yourself completely out of it. So plan a day or two doing something you normally wouldn’t do.

Spend Wednesday doing the Sunday crossword. Watch the seasons change at a cabin at the lake. Have a massage at bedtime.

While you are so engaged, concentrate fully on what’s going on in front of you—not the situation that upset you in the first place.

° Discover the hidden gift in the problem. When my car was burglarized, I was mighty upset. Then one of the handsomest men I have ever met arrived at my door (wearing his police uniform) and things began to look a bit brighter.

We even managed to laugh about the situation when he asked me to check the car for further theft. I looked around and told him all of my music CDs were in place. “I don’t suppose that people who steal batteries would steal Mozart, would they?” I asked.

Negative times can be profoundly diminished if you have tools for dealing with them.

Abraham Maslow once described the self-actualized person’s response to chaos by saying they behaved “like a clock ticking in a thunderstorm.” It’s a picture I’ve tried to remember in crazy times and attempted to duplicate.

None of us is immune to life’s negative events, but it’s possible to minimize their impact. In the end, it’s really a matter of learning to starve our upsets and feed our opportunities.


When I first moved to Minnesota, I used to joke that there was a church on every corner. That’s a bit of an exaggeration, of course, but it seems that most major thoroughfares are dotted with them.

For several years, there was a church that I passed almost every day. Like most churches, it had a message board out in front. Unlike most churches, this message board actually contained messages.

Even more unusual, the messages were changed a couple of times every week so there was always a new one to check out.

Some of the messages were attention-getters like the one that said, “Satan loves a dusty Bible.” Others were funny. My favorite one said, “Trouble sleeping? Try a sermon.”

Mostly they were lovely philosophical reminders to be kind and to contribute to making the world a better place.

One day I was pondering some troublesome problem that had me stumped. As I passed the church, the sign board declared, “Love is the answer.”  I burst out laughing. That was exactly what I needed to solve my problem.

One day I called the church and said, “In case no one has told you this, I want you to know how much your message board is appreciated by those of us driving by.” The secretary said they’d gotten many positive comments on it, then added that the senior pastor went out at 5:30 in the morning to change the board.

“Please thank him for me,” I said.

Several months later, I passed by the church again and saw a gathering in the yard. A fancy new message board had just been installed. It had a burgundy and charcoal frame and was lighted from within.

It was pretty spiffy, but I noticed that the message simply listed the times of their services. That’s the way it stayed. I hardly noticed it anymore.

What’s the point of posting the times of their services? Those hours never change and surely their members already know when services are held.

If the point of posting them is for the convenience of nonmembers who might want to join them, I’m not sure there’s any obvious reason to pick this church over any other.

I’ve tried to imagine what happened here. Maybe the senior pastor retired and nobody else wanted to do it, I thought. Maybe not enough people let them know that they liked the effort.

Or perhaps, and I hope I’m wrong here, the church forgot that it’s really in the inspiration business. Most likely, somebody decided it was too much bother to keep the messages up and in making that decision lost an enormous opportunity to contribute some random good.

“The difference between people who exercise initiative and those who don’t,” writes Stephen Covey, “is literally the difference between night and day. I’m not talking about a twenty-five to fifty percent difference in effectiveness;  I’m talking about a 5000-plus percent difference, particularly if they are smart, aware and sensitive to others.”

What Covey is talking about seems to be a big secret: if we want to get great results we can’t wait for others. We have to practice generosity first.

As Amazon founder Jeff Bezos once told an interviewer, “It’s not our customer’s job to lie awake nights figuring out how we can serve them better. We have to take responsibility for improving.”

We always have the choice of creating a life that is grim or glorious. If you want to make this coming year the best one you’ve ever had, take the challenge now to discover and share as generously as you can.

Whether you’re repairing small engines, teaching yoga or designing Web sites, you’ll find there’s no shortage of opportunities to inspire and encourage other people—if you are so inclined.

Inspire them by your joy, inspire them by your commitment, inspire them by caring about their success. When you’re focused on ways to be generous, you’ll be dazzled by all the abundance you’re getting back.