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Learning From Weeds: Part 6 [Agriculture
Posted on October 7, 2014 @ 09:03:00 AM by Paul Meagher

In todays blog I wanted to reflect upon what a thistle plant might teach us about how to start, grow, and sustain a business. This is the 6th installment of my Learning from Weeds series (see part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5).

What distinguishes a thistle plant from other plants is that it has pickles all over its body that are considered an adaptation against herbavores grazing it down. A thistle plant spreads through its rhizomes (underground root system runners), and, like the field bindweed, can grow back from severed roots so is difficult to eradicate once it puts in a deep root system. It also relases seeds on little parachutes that aids in longer distance dispersal. It is a productive bearer of seeds but vegetative spread through its root system is still its main method of propogating itself.

Thistles come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and colors. All of them have prickly surfaces and some other commonalities. They can be very beautiful (e.g., scotch thistle pictured above) with a nice flowering head to attract pollinators. While it might be nice looking, unless you are a bee, you probably don't want to mess with a thistle.

Finally, thistles have a wide distribution and are considered an invasive weed in many locations. So it is one of the more successful plants around and thus potentially instructive on what it takes to survive and thrive in business.

The thistle has many things going for it even if it did not have prickles over its body. It might still be capable of invasiveness, but the prickles make it even more of a contender for invasiveness. The prickles, in a sense, help you to maintain your ground once you start putting your roots down. They are a defensive strategy that is also a good offense.

Another aspect of the thistle is that it offers a prickly surface to certain types of predators (i.e., herbavores) while maintaining an attractive display for those it wants to attact (i.e., bees). This is a duality that successful businesses might also exhibit - tough to deal with if you want to compete against them, but attractive at the same time to those it wants to do business with.

Probably the best example of a thistle strategy in business is the use of patents to protect inventions. The invention itself may be very attractive to consumers but if you try to mimic the invention in its significant aspects, then you might be faced with a lawsuit for patent infringement. The patent is a defensive strategy that is also used as an offensive strategy whereby the invention can be sold to someone on the basis of the patent. It is not a great offense, however, in terms of actually getting the invention manufactured, distributed, marketed and branded. The thistle has more strategies than just a patent to ensure it's successful spread.

So the question is, do business have to be like thistles in some respects in order to start, grow, or sustain themselves over time. Do they need a good defensive strategy as well as an offensive one in order to survive or thrive?

A thistle is the patron plant of Scotland, supposedly having to do with an invasion that was thrwarted when a Norse man encoutered a thistle and, in his distress, alerted them to their presence.

A thistle is emblamatic of the protector of the business, the defensive strategy that helps protect it from credible threats.

On another note, last night I was test driving my new Canon Powershot SX50 digital camera and spent some time photographing the spectacular moonscape that was on view last night. Tonight is supposed to be even better with the moon potentially turning red due to an eclipse event. Some are calling it the hunter moon. I'm hoping to get a photo of that event tonight if I'm up and the skies are clear, but here is a photo of the moon as it appeared last night at the farm. I can zoom a bit closer with the camera but then I don't get the whole moon. It is tricky to keep the camera steady for the shot. I use a tripod but even with that it is hard to get it centered just perfect with high resolution. The camera manual offers the tip of putting the shot on a timer to minimize movement at the point when the picture is being taken.

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