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Growing In The Green: June 2007

January 18, 2008  By Melhem Sawaya

What’s your operating temperature?  Would you classify youself as a Thermostat or a Thermometer?

Within and outside my job, I interact with many people. That’s led me to the conclusion that people fall into two main categories: the ‘Thermostat’ group and the ‘Thermometer’ group.


Before I share my observations, let me relay to you how my trusty dictionary defines each of those key words.

• Thermostat: This is a temperature regulator, a device that regulates temperature by means of a temperature sensor; or it is a device that activates a mechanism. It is a mid-19th-century word, coined from ‘thermo’ plus ‘stat,’ which would be a “instrument holding constant value,” and the Greek ‘statikos,’ which means “causing to stand.”

• Thermometer: This is an instrument used to measure temperature. It is a mid-17th-century word from the French word, ‘thermométre.’

In which group would you belong? Take a few minutes to consider this before continuing this feature.
The next question to consider is whether you are happy where you stand, or do you like to change and adjust? Here are some steps to consider before you try to fit into one camp or the other.

The Thermostat people are those individuals who are driven and love change. They are always looking to set new standards in their fields, and are characterized as being achievers. This group is divided into two subgroups:

• Thermostat People Without Sensors.

• Thermostat People With Sensors.

The Thermostat People Without Sensors are those individuals who like to change things for change’s sake, irrespective of consequences, because their main focus is change. They justify their actions based only on very few considerations, and talk themselves into the fact that this is the right course of action.
They think they know it all.

However, what I have found is that this group is quite paranoid. They are unsure of themselves and their jobs, and over-compensate by being overly bossy. When things go wrong, it is someone else’s fault, and usually because the other person didn’t take their advice or follow what they suggested.

And despite their obnoxious behaviour, they can achieve good results, though definitely not as frequently as they might think.

The Thermostat People With Sensors make things happen. They are action-oriented, but will only do something after checking all the readings from different sensors (other individuals) that will influence their decision-making.

This is the group of people who understand that their success depends on the people with whom they interact. They are genuine, secure, have good communication skills, and always put the interests of others on the same level as their interests, or higher.

They are helpful, even when they are busiest. At the same time, they know they can tap into a large pool of other people for help.

I worked on a farm when I first came to Canada. The owner was Lorne Freeman of Mount Hope, near Hamilton, Ontario. He used to tell me that you can get all the help you want, as long as you help others. He didn’t just say it, but he put it to practice on a regular basis. He was greatly respected by everyone, and received a citizen of the year award from the community.

(Another of his wise sayings was that if you make your money with a spoon, and your spouse spends with a shovel, you’re never going to get any place!

(And back then when I was out with my fiancée (now my wife!) late at night, and would have to wake up early the next morning, he would joke that “you can’t live on love alone. You have to eat and sleep, too!”)
Whenever I think of a person who is a Thermostat With Sensors, at the top of my list is Lorne Freeman. Who is at the top of your list, and what have your learned from them? I can think of many people in horticulture that clearly represent this group. I have great respect for them, as do many other people.

The Thermometer group includes those individuals who register what is going on without any action. They will whine and complain about what others are trying to do.

Normally, these people are stuck in old habits that are not applicable in today’s workplace environment. They are living in a submarine, but refuse to use the periscope to check what’s going on around them.
I feel sorry for this group, because sooner or later, they will have a wake-up call. However, by then it’s often too late to catch up with everyone else.

Some of them strongly believe that whatever goes wrong is obviously someone else’s fault. And they are probably correct, but only because Thermometer people don’t do anything to prevent the problem. Most importantly, they don’t do anything, period. We are not suggesting they put in 12-hour days at work, but only that they should work towards change, improvement, progress, innovation and action. These words would be totally foreign to them.

Everyone is free to think and act in their own way, but our industry is quite small. Actions of even a small operation can have a ripple effect throughout the industry. No one should sit on the fence. If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.

The floriculture industry has gone through more changes these past five years than in the previous 30. Many have to do with marketing, and most of them are forced on us by the buyers, particularly big box stores. In this regard, they are the Thermostats and we are the Thermometers. This is largely because many growers have for too long concentrated only on production, and have all but ignored the needs of buyers and consumers.

Growers are facing increasing demands from buyers. Many are responding positively and are building better relationships with the buyers. Both are taking on the role of Thermostats and have made consumers their ultimate sensors and are adjusting accordingly.

However, other operations are falling behind and are stubbornly refusing to change or use their periscopes. They must adjust before it is too late.

Over the past two years, I have seen greatly improved relationships being fostered between growers and buyers. They are sharing the goal of mutual profitability by ensuring they are serving the needs of consumers. This is great synergy.

Many avenues are available to achieve this goal. We have to get out of our submarines (greenhouses) and look around. Check what other growers are doing. Register for seminars and workshops.  Listen to the speakers. This is how you will gather the information you need to adapt to the new environment of doing business, if indeed you need to change.

In my almost 30 years in horticulture, I have never attended a seminar, workshop or greenhouse tour from which I didn’t learn something new. There is always something I can apply to improve my business.

I’m constantly reminded that there is still so much to learn about this industry (even after 30 years!), and that there is always a better way to do things. This doesn’t mean changing everything we’re doing all the time, because that is a recipe for failure. But we should be prepared to take baby step changes, to ensure the needs of everyone in the loop – growers, buyers, retailers and consumers – are in harmony, thereby ensuring continued success of this industry.

Melhem Sawaya of Focus Greenhouse Management is a consultant and research coordinator to the horticultural industry. Comments on this or any other article are always welcome by e-mailing him at

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