The Mindset of the Gardener – Meeting the Universe Halfway

The IMPM’s five mindsets allow participants to engage with the world around them in ways that enhance their knowledge, the latest management concepts, methodologies, and this leads to breakthroughs in thinking and practice, as well as a greater sense of purpose and ambition for themselves and their companies. These breakthroughs come from seeing and learning from different perspectives – from the participants in the classroom to the locations where the program takes place.

Martin Brigham, Academic Director of the IMPM explores the management learning that comes from nature in his article, The Mindset of the Gardener, Meeting the Universe Halfway.

“Life begins the day you start a garden.” Chinese Proverb.

Gardening, says David Hurst, is a way into thinking about management by understanding how ecosystems work and how nature is in everything around us. Consider steel – a material we may take for granted as it is ubiquitous in modern life, yet which is integral to infrastructure, energy generation, transport, agriculture, and construction.

We might think of steel as a witness to the history of human civilization and steel as nature, transformed. As Posco’s incredible Gwangyang steelworks in South Korea shows, iron ore is first mined from the ground, smelted in blast furnaces, then rolled and finished to customers’ requirements around the world. Indeed, gardeners themselves use spades and wheelbarrows made of steel.

The Latest in Management Thinking – Beyond the Classroom to Ecosystems

Shouldn’t advanced management development programs that foster engaged managing and innovation also be engaging and innovative in their approach? Innovation is often premised on rethinking what we take account of – what we pay attention to and what matters to us. Advanced management development must also now include a focus on sustainability and stewardship of the planet. During the International Masters Program for Managers (IMPM), there is a wide range of beyond the classroom workshops, including sessions on managing the planet in each of the mindset modules.

Integrated with learning about the latest management knowledge and methodologies from around the world, the IMPM “classroom outside the classroom” is partly inspired by Rabindranath Tagore, one of India’s greatest thinkers, writers, and polymaths. He envisioned an education that is deeply rooted in one’s immediate surroundings but connected to the wider world, and always predicated upon engaged learning individualized to the person. He also emphasized the importance of an empathic sense of interconnectedness with the surrounding world.

Tagore’s intuition is backed up by recent research published in the Academy of Management Journal which found that empathy and humility is infectious and that humble managers and leaders foster humility in others. Similarly, for the far-sighted management guru Peter Drucker, management is a liberal art comprised of the application of techno-scientific knowledge, self-knowledge, and wisdom to achieve an effective result through action. Central to any human endeavor, management takes on a function beyond business.

The education of practicing senior executives must, therefore, be about the best in management thinking, creating the conditions for the wise application of knowledge, enriching action and expanding mindsets for knowing, feeling and seeing the world around us.

Experiencing Landscape to Reflect on Purpose

At Lancaster University in the UK, beyond the classroom senior management development weaves literature and landscape with a physical and metaphorical day long walk with Simon Bainbridge, Professor of Romantic Literature. Walking in the English Lake District that inspired William Wordsworth’s poetry, along paths built by volunteers, climbing into a cave together and paddling across a lake, participants are immersed in their surroundings so as “to let nature be their teacher.”

Accompanied by poetry to invoke curiosity and wonder, walking with Wordsworth is an interdisciplinary approach to executive development that focuses on purpose. The romanticism of Wordsworth’s autobiographic poem The Prelude becomes a catalyst for reflecting on a leader’s sense of purpose, stimulating a greater sense of their own journey and vocation.

Collaboration with Forests for Diversity

While at Yokohama National University in Japan participants explore the campus in a designed forest to experience how nature collaborates to cool us, protect the campus and people from fire and earthquakes, as well as providing aesthetic enjoyment. Dr Akira Miyawaki, a vegetation ecologist and emeritus professor at Yokohama developed the concept of Potential Natural Vegetation to assess the natural environment in conditions modified by human activities over time.

From this came his internationally acclaimed Miyawaki Method of forest management by closely and randomly planting many types of seedlings. This results in forests of tall and medium-high trees as found in natural forest systems which reinforces diversity and sustainability.

Circulating Resources Around the Globe

Thinking about continuities and change, during the Action Mindset at FGV-EBAPE in Brazil, participants often visit the historic Botanical Gardens to recover a sense of the long wave of globalization and the role the natural world played in an age of empire. The botanical garden was founded in 1808 by King John VI of Portugal originally designed for the acclimatization of spices like nutmeg and pepper which had been brought from the West Indies. In the midst of the ever-present nature in the city of Rio, participants reflect on how spices, plants, and trees were moved around the globe as part of territorial expansion. The Action Mindset provides key insights and management tools for senior executives to understand global dynamics while emphasizing the change and continuity in the economic and political context within which business operates.

Nature Inspired Business Models

The Worldly Mindset at the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Bangalore in India focuses on the latest research insights for creating new forms of value and frameworks for entrepreneurship. Participants visit Avani Orchards together with digital entrepreneurs including Pratap Hegde CEO and founder of Telematics4u Services to discuss how innovations in the digital economy are increasingly drawn from a better understanding of coordination, partnering, and adaptation in ecosystems: the new platform-based economy is using insights from the way ecosystem work to develop new products and services.

Analyzing Ecocycles

One of the centerpieces of the program’s focus on eco-systems is David Hurst‘s workshop at McGill University. David is an Associate at the Drucker Society in Europe, editor of Strategy+Business and an adjunct at the Centre for Creative Leadership.

His workshop on eco-cycle thinking for managing organizations during the Analytic Mindset at McGill University in Canada takes participants through ecocycle concepts in ways which enrich and expands analytical thinking about innovation, change, and renewal. David is a world-leader in ecocycle thinking for managers and business. His TED-type talk at the 10th Annual Drucker Forum meeting in November 2018 is available to watch here.

Worldly Managers and Executives

Perhaps we might think of the planet as a garden and take time to reflect on what would be the consequences for managing our world if we understood our role in terms of gardening? The role of nature and ecosystems thinking has been largely absent from executive management education and practice until very recently. Yet how we think about the world around us and the ends to which ecological thinking is put will become an increasingly central question, as managers, leaders, and organizations respond to a changing climate.

The IMPM provides experienced managers and entrepreneurs with the latest and advanced thinking in management over an 18-month program. The program develops senior executives and their companies by giving them the knowledge and experience to become more capable, confident and worldly.

Understanding the myriad dynamics of business around the world creates worldly executives. As Professor Henry Mintzberg et al suggest: “The term ‘global’ tends to be associated with the economic activities of multinational corporations. It has also come to imply a kind of cookie-cutter conformity. The term ‘worldly,’ by contrast, is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as ‘experienced in life, sophisticated, practical.’ This suggests the ability to venture beyond our own world, to appreciate the worlds of people in other cultures, whether geographic or institutional. Worldly business people appreciate the pressures on government officials; worldly community actors understand that businesses need to be driven by commercial interests; worldly politicians realize the need for constructive consolidation of the efforts of all three sectors; and worldly people in all the sectors know how much they can learn from their counterparts in other parts of the world, poor as well as rich.”

Managing and Meeting the Universe Halfway

What can executives learn from the metaphor of gardening? Gardening is best understood as a resource for our individual and organizational imagination – a way of meeting the universe halfway. Gardening is a way of engaging with the world with intent and purpose, of applying scientific knowledge, deploying collective attitudes to risk and uncertainty, understanding the role of wider institutions and communities, and understanding our sense of the natural world. There is, of course, no single rational way to be a gardener. The IMPM’s five mindsets allow participants to engage with the world around them in ways that enhance their knowledge and the latest management concepts and methodologies and this leads to breakthroughs in thinking and practice, as well as a greater sense of purpose and ambition for themselves and their companies.

To find out more about the 23rd cycle of the IMPM which begins in mid-September – to advance your management practice in the company of participants from around the world and 75 academic faculty including Professor Henry Mintzberg – contact us at

A version of this article has been published on Medium.

Dr Martin Brigham is the Worldwide Academic Director, International Masters Program for Managers (IMPM). His email is

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