Here is a wonderful example of the way that a mixture of good fun and planetary service can lead to a flourishing business. Scott Alyn and The Great Northwestern Greeting Seed Company can be contacted at PO Box 776, Oregon City, OR 97045, or 503/631-3425.
IT STARTED TEN YEARS AGO. There I was in a nice position in a major midwest corporation – good salary, good benefits, the opportunity to travel, creative freedom. To everyone, but me, I had it made! There was a void deep inside – something was missing. I set off on a long journey to discover how I could use my business talents and skills in service to something larger than myself. Three years later it came down to a choice. Another comfortable corporate position or working on a tree farm for minimum wage. While struggling, a voice deep inside reminded me of what I once read . . . "Do what you truly enjoy and trust that the money will come from your positive energy!" For the first time in my life I listened. The joy of working with the trees was beyond description! The fresh air, the view of the mountain – freedom!
Still wanting to create a long-term livelihood after work each day, I put much effort into devising a way to combine my business experience with my love of nature. I decided to plant a large garden at home. I thought, "If all else fails, at least I can eat!" A few months later I was out in the garden when an idea formed in me: "Why not combine seeds with greeting cards . . . greeting seeds!" The vision was clear. From one tiny seed and an enormous amount of work, the company is growing and prospering. The idea has quickly evolved from my dream into the hope and collective dreams of many people. In these seven years, we have shared more than 20 million cards with people all over the country and different parts of the world. This has helped bring the business to a level where we enjoy the unique opportunity to earn a living and contribute something of true meaning to the earth and our own lives.
The process of getting here has also made it clear that growth is a journey and not a destination. It is an ongoing challenge to sustain life in a business, just as it is in an individual. We have looked to the living system of a garden instead of procedure manuals and policies that stifle the natural life forces. This has led to the five principles that shape the day-to-day actions in all aspects of the business:
1) Develop products that speak to people’s hearts and spirits and relationship to the earth. We discovered that to speak to people’s hearts and spirits, each product has to come from deep within our own hearts. The process of developing each card has become a journey, an exploration into our own essence. The cards have become living indicators of who we are and our commitment to the larger purpose.
2) Grow no faster than we can maintain the essence of GREETING SEEDS. This principle has provided an excellent context in which to balance the usual business temptations of mass economics with the processes that nurture and nourish what’s essential to GREETING SEEDS and the people.
3) Evolve our organization where people’s talents and ideas can be contributed. A major effect of this principle has been in shifting the focus from what we do to how we do it. This helps each individual discover his own potential. It requires trusting the premise that there is a seed, with its amazing possibilities, in each of us. Given the right conditions, the freedom and the nourishment, it will blossom and become part of a total life process. The evolution of the garden has to do with making it possible for each seed to realize its potential. GREETING SEEDS is a living example of this process. People who came to the company as production assemblers and typists are now seen creating new cards, writing poetry, doing the artwork and leading new product introductions.
4) Humor, creativity and graphics style will play a major role in all parts of the business. Humor, creativity and graphics are used to nourish all business relationships among the suppliers, the customers and people within the company. The collection of money that is owed by customers traditionally is a terrible headache for businesses. At GREETING SEEDS, when an account becomes past due, the customer receives a few spaghetti noodles in a cello bag with a note that says: "Your account is ‘Pasta’ Due . . . Please pay upa or we breaka your noodle!" The mailing label on the shipping packages has a picture of a gopher in tennis shoes with a package under his arm and a caption that says: "Gopher Express"! These are just a couple of examples of how humor is used as lubrication to keep the business processes in motion!
5) Run the business like a garden. We take some for ourselves, share some with others and return some back to the soil for next year. This principle guides the distribution of our earnings. A certain percentage of the earnings is taken by the employees as profitshare, an equal percentage is set aside each year to be given to community and earth-related projects and the remaining goes back to the soil to fund the growth and new products for next year.
So, this is the story of GREETING SEEDS – a business in the process of learning and discovering its role in the evolution of heart, mind, spirit and earth. Also it is our story, you and I, and of all people in search of making a contribution to the well-being of each other and of this earth.