What gardening taught me about research in a pandemic
July 2, 2020
July 2, 2020
I have a garden on my terrace in Mumbai. While working on Industry X.0 and supply chain research during COVID-19, tending to my garden was a relief. It was calming to be out there working with living plants.
Before COVID, we were working on two pieces of research that were well underway. We were feverishly moving towards the launch date — and then COVID-19 happened. Quite suddenly everything changed all over the world.
We had to reframe the questions we’d been asking to reflect the changing times. The way we interpreted data had to change. We needed to be relevant.
This is where my lessons from gardening helped me adjust my mindset. In the middle of the growth of the plant, you sometimes have externalities that start impacting you and the way you want to approach it — weather, pests, weeds. There’s nothing to do but adjust the way you think about and approach it.
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We had to reframe the questions we’d been asking to reflect the changing times.
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Gardening is full of values, and it occurred to me that working with plants has a lot in common with working with data and the research I do to create thought leadership.
The pandemic provided us an opportunity to make our research even more pertinent. The easy way out was to make some incremental changes. But this is where you need to consider a different approach I learned from gardening. How? Talk to your plants. If you’re talking to your plants or talking to your subjects or your data, it talks back to you. It tells you a story relevant to that instant. Perhaps it says, “I’m not blossoming because…” — and if you listen, you’ll know how to move forward.
Just like cultivating insights in research, you can’t approach growing plants just for the sake of it; you have to be passionate. You have to give 100%, especially when unexpected events occur that upend work you’ve invested in. In such crazy times, it’s passion that helps you sail through. It helps you to not focus on the blossom and gives you the strength to put in whatever it takes to put in. In this way, I am also passionate about thought leadership.
I tend to my terrace garden every day. I see it blossom and the fruits, the greenness and the light that has its dimension. The light enters the garden in many ways and makes the leaves, dew drops and flowers adorn their sparkle. Sometimes, the shine reveals something you may not normally notice. And this is what also reflects in my work.
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Just like cultivating insights in research, you can’t approach growing plants just for the sake of it; you have to be passionate.
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I constantly look for that light that will show the bright spots you want to create in that thought leadership (in technical terms we call it the “complication”)? At times these dewdrops present themselves to you, but you need to move further in the shrubbery to see them. And this approach helped me a lot. Combining the sparkle of pre-COVID-19 data and new insights during the crisis, we build research that our senior leaders are now calling groundbreaking.
Working as a researcher during COVID-19 certainly made us agile. In those first few weeks of lockdown, clients needed answers in real-time, so we sped up, but we did not rush. Gardening provided an insight here: Plants grow at their own pace. It doesn’t help to hurry. If a plant doesn’t want to flower, it won’t. You might inject it with something, and it may work once, but not every time. Plants teach you to be alert and agile, but not to rush.
That learning is exactly what helped us. Through January to June, we were extra vigilant and sensitive to our clients’ needs and found out new ways to make our research more applicable and credible.
Crisis tests collaboration. You cannot solve a problem without being collaborative; our research shows that if you can’t collaborate, you’re not going to grow. This is all the more important when every penny is under scrutiny as it is during economically challenging times like now.
We’ve been working virtually for years with my team. The core team is located in Gurgaon, Bangalore, Phoenix and Boston, while marketing colleagues are in London, Hamburg and other locations. But COVID-19 got us even closer. We became extra sensitive to each other’s concerns, more open to finding and experimenting with new ways of collaboration, more focused on generating value with agility and through consensus.
Whatever research shines today is only because of our team. We adjusted ourselves during COVID-19 to account for the changes, and that’s the only way research works. Like the garden, it takes every plant in the garden to make the garden.
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