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Posted on February 8, 2018 @ 10:17:00 AM by Paul Meagher
Eliot Coleman, along with his wife Barbara Damrosch, own Four Season Farm in Harborside, Maine. They are both skilled growers with Eliot tending more to the vegetable side of the business and Barbara tending to the
flower side of the business. They also write books for a living.
Eliot is well known as an innovator in season extension techniques and for designing new market gardening tools that have become standard market gardening tools (i.e., Tilther, Six-Row Seeder). I searched YouTube to see what Eliot was up to lately and enjoyed this recent keynote speech
called Nothing Is Impossible.
Before Eliot, most growers would have thought it was fool hardy to try to grow vegetables commercially in Maine throughout the winter in unheated greenhouses. How was he able to accomplish this feat? Here are some of my answers based on this video.
You need a certain amount of grit, what Eliot calls stubbornness and persistence, to achieve an impossible goal or solve an impossible problem.
One of the major motivations for Eliot to achieve the impossible was the desire to not lose his vegetable customers in the winter to California growers. You can be motivated to solve an impossible problem for many reasons, but keeping ahead of the competition is often a major source of motivation.
3. Problem is the solution
Permaculture founder Bill Mollison was fond of saying that the problem is the solution. Solving an impossible problem often requires looking at the problem as a solution to other problems. Growing veggies in winter solves the problems of market differentiation, better pricing, and pest control. Eliot is able to differentiate the produce he grows in winter from produce grown in California. His carrots, for example, benefit from being stored in the cold ground for awhile before they are harvested. They become sweeter and he is able to successfully market them as "candy carrots". Eliot is also able to price his produce higher if he is in the market with fresh veggies before other local growers. Over wintering crops or getting an early start makes this happen. Finally, growing crops in winter solves the problem of dealing with lots of insect pests that are only active in warmer temperatures. So part of solving an impossible problem is seeing aspects of the problem as the solution to other problems.
4. Practical inspiration
When we travel we often think of visiting art museums, beaches or other tourist sites. When Eliot travels he likes to visit hardware stores to see what they have that hardware stores in Maine don't. Eliot finds design inspiration in how other people solve practical problems although he probably has lots of theory to draw on as well. Eliot reminds us that another reason to visit distant places is not just to enjoy their tourist attractions but also to study the ways they solve practical problems. This might help you to see an impossible problem in a new light.
Another source of inspiration for solving impossible problems that Eliot does not mention is to study the lives of other animals and how they solve impossible problems. How is a caterpillar able to freeze rock solid but once it is warmed up it can go on about its business? How is a duck able to stay warm in a frigid pond? How is a queen bee able to maintain a sperm for several years from a one time mating episode with multiple drone bees? Humans need to freeze sperm to preserve it for that long.
One way to solve impossible problems is to see if nature has already solved a similar problem.
Partnering with inventors
Eliot has helped make Johnny Seeds (a 100% employee owned company) quite a bit of money from popular market gardening tools he helped to develop. Eliot developed early prototypes for new tools and then partnered with Johnny Seeds to manufacture and sell them. Eliot claims not to be making money of these inventions because he is primarily interested in seeing his ideas developed to the point of commercialization. I'm not sure if this type of partnering would work in other industries but it may be worth thinking about how you might partner with highly skilled people in your industry to help develop their ideas into commercial products. Rather then trying to invent things in-house, perhaps you can invest that time and money into identifying skilled practitioners and offer to support the development of their inventions to make life easier. It would be interesting to know more about how Johnny Seeds is able to benefit from Eliot Coleman's inventive mind.