Ants vs. the celery root: top 5 skills to develop in 2013

By deirdremoorene…, 16 January, 2013

I have spent much time contemplating the best approach to people development in the South African context.  I have applied this thinking to every business meeting, every training intervention, every assignment assessed over the past year. In this article, I identify the top 5 skills that need to be developed in 2013. My inspiration comes from the humble celery plant.


One of my challenges last year was the successful cultivation of a vegetable garden. I failed, largely because of the tiniest of creatures: the ant. The first crop I lost was my celery. The plants were flourishing but then, in the absence of any obvious reason, the leaves started to wilt and the plants eventually died. When I pulled what was left of them from the ground, I realised that their roots were infested with ants. Under ground, out of sight, these small creatures had destroyed a beautiful crop. Look at the picture above of a celery plant; focus on the roots, on how big they are in relation to the plant, on how strong they look. How could a root structure like this fall victim to tiny ants?


Meteorologist Edward Lorenz coined the phrase “butterfly effect”.  In popular culture it describes the concept that small events or actions can have large, widespread consequences. I imagine this is what happened to my celery plants; a single bite of a root by a lone ant led to an infestation, to a large number of tiny bites that killed the plants.


The “ants” I face in my profession are those attitudes and daily actions that undermine the successful growth of the businesses I work with. Here are the skills I believe can stop the “ants” in their tracks:


  1. A sense of accountability: an acknowledgment from individuals that they have an impact on their personal success or failure and that of the businesses that they work in, no matter their position or level
  2. Out-of-the-box thinking: businesses need to continually evolve, to improve and respond to changing circumstances. "If you always do what you always did, you always get what you always got" (Anon). Individuals need to be open to change, to new ideas and to be consciously looking for more efficient ways to do business
  3. Positivity[i]: an approach to work that only accepts constructive feedback, that demands problem solving and always focuses forward
  4. Financial savvy: we will continue to feel the effects of the global recession for some time. Employees need to actively look for ways to manage resources in a cost effective way
  5. Cultural awareness: the ability to understand the perspectives of others and the value that diversity brings to the workplace


Let the “butterfly effect” in your business be a positive one. Develop skills and attitudes that foster great things. Let the celery grow, not the ants.


This is a much simplified version of what is going on in my head but hopefully it will be enough to get you thinking; to spark internal debate and perhaps lead to a more detailed conversation between us.




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