True story.

I have two gardens. In one, I’m God and my name is Jeff Weiner. In the other, I am but a leaf of grass (and I’m no Jeff Weiner either – he is).

Recently, my comment on an excellent article by Mr. Itai Leshem earned some praise. I stated “that large digital platforms fare better with programmers at the helm”. It took me three weeks to grasp what I’ve unearthed. Which is: a whole lot of dirt.

“Gardens always mean something else,
man absolutely uses one thing to say another.” – Robert Harbison

My grandfather was a farmer. They don’t make them like that anymore. You know the kind. The one that owns their homestead and doesn’t budge from it for life.

They escort the sun in its ritual run, pick onion, plant peas, clean all ten hives of diligent bees, take their four cows to graze, harvest the wheat and pluck the maize, catch bubbling fish in a calm brook, make records in Cyrillic in the Good Book (“Born Marko Vesic, third son of Luke”); they make heaps of cheese, plum brandy and wine; then, as fresh air must settle, they lock in their cattle, cover the bees, silently dine, finish the wine, undress and lie, then quietly die. That kind.

Fast-forward past one generation and there am I, an urban gardener. You know the kind. My small garden is wedged between a highway and a mall. On some years, nostalgia makes me sun-dry a fistful of grapes, but caution won’t allow me to later eat that sultana, for fear of toxic pollution. That kind.

Last year I decided that my garden deserved some tender loving care. I gave it two to three hours each day for five months – precious time I could have spent toiling away on my computer. But I learned more about LinkedIn while working with a trowel, than I did over years of reading, posting and professional profiling combined.

After seven indulgent seasons (during which nature pretty much had its way) I set out to turn my wild patch into a multifunctional mini-park. All it needed was a pathway. A simple stone octagon would turn a sloping bed of wild grass under my window into my dream garden.

The octagon is an ancient algorithm. So ancient, that even the Chinese no longer know how it works, though they swear by it. It had worked in my past and that fact (plus a billion and a half likes) earned it a place in my plans. It would put my whole world in order, ‘cause that’s what good algorithms do. (They had the exact same thought at LinkedIn.)

It would be easy to mow grass, pick roses and grapes, trim hedges into shapes. There would be less mud inside, on rainy days. We’d get another station for socializing in fair weather (beside the balcony and the backyard). I’d physically curtail the spread of weeds. Ultimately, the house price would go up, through little more than aesthetics.

My design matched the pathway my dogs had made in the grass over the years. Dogs will dominate not only a garden, but their whole neighbourhood. When they greet, announce or ward off callers, they’re equally loud. My dogs – my influencers – want their own elephant route? I’ll bloody build it. (Ditto at LinkedIn).

I’ll keep the premium space at the centre flexible and exclusive. Barbecue? Check. Sunbathing? Check. A yoga moment? Check. Drinks at sunset with friends? Audio-books accompanied by crickets? Writing in peace and quiet at dawn, before traffic appears on the radar? Check, check and check.

If I’d had investors, they’d be awed by my pitch and my share value would grow high, like sunflowers do. (And LinkedIn’s did, for a long time.)

And, speaking of sunflowers, this was the year I’d grow vegetables along the garden edge, at last. (And LinkedIn would cultivate long posts.) Never mind that the elongated, narrow patch had little sunlight and even less breadth for fertilization. I deemed it worth a try.

Where there were once rose thorns and poisonous ivy, I’d have root veggies, salads, onions and herbs. And sunflowers. No store-bought produce would tarnish my table. From now on, only home-made content will do. (Same as the boss of LinkedIn) I was paying tribute to my roots.

veggie-patch

THE SPRING

I started by uprooting old, patchy grass; I’d have the new grass grow evenly, eventually. The soil proved even patchier – hard, lumpy, mixed with fractured concrete, roof tile shards and broken bottles. So I sifted that truckload of dirt, rocking back and forth a tiny sieve, for what seemed like centuries. (What do you mean why? How do you cultivate a garden – from the ground up?)

This was not my Grandpa’s arable land (nor Facebook’s versatile code). My patch yielded a half ton of rubble. I gradually put all loose stones and rocks in crates, sorted by size and colour, so I could lay them neatly into terrace walls. As a finishing touch, I’d pour the remaining fine white gravel over the precious octagonal platform, for accent.

All clay-like lumps that I found I poured into sacks, thinking I might also build a cool heat shelter, by mixing dung and soil, like people do in the Tropics. There’s no shortage of dung where there are dogs; this way I’d put it to use. We’d call it a dog house, of course, though cats would appropriate it in no time (much like Unfluencers on Pulse soon outshone the stars).

The earthworms of all sizes wiggled in my sieve, like fish out of water. I’d gently carry them over to undisturbed corners, where they could support the new growth unharmed. Without their tireless digging, there would be nothing to put on the table when it’s our time to eat. (Much like recruiters sustain LinkedIn’s whole operation).

At nightfall, I’d use the flashlight of my smart phone to avoid harming any creatures. There in the spotlight, crawling under covers, were dark grey, cylindrical woodlice, all identical, all anonymous in their stealth. I’d lift and move whatever attracts them – a rock, a plank or a planter – and they’d go congregate in some other shade (much like anonymous profile visitors tend to favour LinkedIn members with clout).

Neat. I was reversing the Entropy single-handed, or at least halting it for a while. If not me, then who? And if not then, then when? (Just like LinkedIn hopes to enlist all the world’s professionals). Somebody’s gotta do it, right?

THE SUMMER

Meanwhile, in my veggie patch, the pests had a festival. The pole bean sprouts never sprouted. Lettuce and spinach were munched to the root. Swiss chard barely yielded some leaves before giving up, way too early in the season. Off the top of my head, I could list ten top ways to state the obvious (and most writers on LinkedIn do).

It turned out I have slugs and snails in such vast numbers I could profit from them – if only I could force myself to touch them. This way, they profited. Nothing was beneath them – they fancied and ate any plant they could get. (Much like LinkedIn Open Networkers – LIONs – who couldn’t care less whom they connect to, so long they do.)

They caused me to plant salad five times, in vain. I gave up when NASA’s live broadcast featured the crew of the Space Station, eating fresh romaine leaves – the human kind’s first-ever harvest in space. I know when I’m beaten. (LinkedIn doesn’t: more and more LinkedIn writers, frustrated by forced failure, now publish long posts on Medium.)

Those veggies I most wanted – tomato and zucchini – failed to fertilize, but the shadow they cast choked sweet peppers and leeks. The most resilient were chilli peppers, yet there were so many of them that in time I let them rot. (And I’m not alone in wastefulness: 150.000 fresh content products sprout every week on LinkedIn, with no selection system and no plan for consumption. We write it and they let it rot.)

pathway-works

THE FALL

By late summer, I had built an octagonal terrace with sacks of soil, as planned. Then I cemented flat stones into a pathway around it. But it didn’t quite work out the way I had hoped. (Well, LinkedIn share value isn’t rising either.)

To bind all that rubble, I needed mortar. I mixed some construction glue with surplus wood ash, kitty litter, dog hair, what not… You don’t want the recipe, trust me. On account that it won’t bond. (Much like LinkedIn’s algorithm fails to honour connections between members, when content is concerned.)

The dogs did try to help me, but not like I wanted. I’d lay out a portion of the pathway in daylight and they’d dig it out by nightfall. They also were dead set against any mosaics I made with gravel.

They barked at every chance, scared passers-by and ran along the fence in pursuit of them, not at all minding my wobbly stone walls and half-loose, half-dry walkways. It all just sort of crumbled soon enough.

I guess, where I should have had experts and applied engineering, I relied on my own imperfect craftsmanship. Well, not so much craftsmanship, as a wannabe’s zeal. Well, not so much wannabe’s zeal, as plain stubbornness.

But I’ve learned my lesson. Come spring time, I’ll re-pave the walkway, on a thick sand bed and with stronger cement. I’ll plant flowers around it – one colour per octagon’s slice – to amplify its magic with beauty and scent. My garden will boast a colour wheel in the centre, surrounded by bright green turf grass, upright and thick. (Yo, LinkedIn, care to share a consistent vision?)

My dream garden will be my coup de force.

Or maybe not.

On second thought, I could just as easily sell the house and move to a high-rise. Or to another continent, for that matter. Been there, done that. (And ditto for LinkedIn leadership; they too could conceivably find a new challenge after a while.)

To my grandfather, his land was his life, his work, his fate. It was unthinkable for him – even in war times – to contemplate any other occupation.

And all this above is why large digital platforms with programmers at the helm (Page, Zuckerberg, Williams) do fare better than those ran by people with a business background.  As Aldo Leopold said: “Land, then, is not merely soil; it is a fountain of energy flowing through a circuit of soils, plants, and animals.”

So it is with algorithms – they are the lifeline of digital businesses. They need to be cultivated carefully and earnestly, for life.

Lessons Learnt

(For me and Jeff Weiner)

“Anybody who wants to rule the world should try to rule a garden first.” – Anonymous
“More grows in the garden than the gardener sows.” — Spanish proverb
“A vegetable garden in the beginning looks so promising and then after all, little by little, it grows nothing but vegetables, nothing, nothing but vegetables.” – Gertrude Stein
“We learn from our gardens to deal with the most urgent question of the time: How much is enough?” — Wendell Berry
“No ray of sunlight is ever lost, but the green it wakes into existence needs time to sprout, and it is not always granted to the sower to live to see the harvest. All work that is worth anything is done in faith.”  – Albert Schweitzer

*  *  *

Dear Google, to help you improve your semantic latency search skills, I’ve sprinkled the following terms throughout this post:

  • algorithm
  • anonymous profile visitors
  • basic membership
  • content
  • Influencer
  • investors
  • LinkedIn
  • LION
  • premium membership
  • Pulse
  • recruiters
  • Unfluencers

See if you can grasp them in context.  :)

*  *  *

What do I do?

“Telling stories. And helping people tell their stories is a sort of interpersonal gardening.” — Jane Pauley