Don’t judge a book…

I have been pondering presentation in recent weeks, and perception.  Perception can be so very different from reality.  When this is the case, who is responsible, and what do we do about it?  I was going to title this thought ‘perception: what do we do when it is wrong?’  However, I wondered how many people would skip the text anticipating a dull article.

Horticulture is perceived to be a low skill profession for those who are not especially academic.  As for arboriculture, most people assume when I say that I work with trees, that I am a tree surgeon.  The idea that someone may write about trees hasn’t entered their thoughts.  In terms of a career in the land-based sector, careers advice can be enhanced and the work of R2 in providing a career structure is to be applauded.  Presentation is important as well as understanding our target audience.  I heard an account recently of a mobile phone company which produced a phone aimed at the senior citizen.  Large buttons were a key feature and the marketing emphasised how the phone provided a life line in the event of an accident such as a fall.  Sales were poor.  However, when the phone was re-launched with the emphasis on social media and keeping in touch with friends, it became popular.  The audience likes to engage socially but does not wish to reminded of their frailty.

We can blame others for misunderstanding, or demonstrating ignorance.  However, I am appreciating that this doesn’t help the situation.  Sometimes, we need the opportunity to demonstrate reality and how this differs from perception.   Recently, I did a tree survey in the Brecon Beacons to BS5837:2012 for a client who, not appreciating what was involved, had invited a local contactor to quote.  My report was submitted, and I was asked to attend a meeting with the planning team.  The sight of me sharing some basic principles of tree selection to highly paid planning consultants, who were taking detailed notes, led to the client recognising the skills within this specialist area.

Keith Sacre has done much to highlight the importance of good nursery practice, including chairing the drafting committee for BS8545.  He has written a through, three-day course exploring the principles to be considered when establishing young trees within the landscape.  Some have queried why CAS needs to run a three day course in ‘planting trees’!  Let’s just say that all who have completed the course to date speak highly of it.  However, Keith recognised that there is also a need for practical training in the various disciplines involved in tree production, and a new course providing this will be launched in the autumn.

Sometimes, the most experienced of people can be caught out.  Back in the 1980s, Virgin Atlantic successfully pursued legal action against the corporate giant British Airways.  Looking back, Lord King, the BA Chairman admitted underestimating his opponent, a youthful Richard Branson, who attended a meeting in sweater and slacks, rather than the expected corporate suit.

There are times when we think we are doing a good job, but need a reality check.  It is not that long ago when, in the fragmented world of arboriculture, we thought we were working together by sharing a drink at the bar and having stands at each other’s trade events.  Now, I am on the Arboricultural Association’s  Consultants Working Group and work with the association’s training team to co-ordinate courses.

The reality is that perception is reality for the individual.  Sometimes, to change this, we need to change the way we do things.  How am I presenting myself, and is this what my audience is expecting?  I work with trees, and so clients are sometimes surprised when I visit a site without a chainsaw, but with my smart white shirt.  For formal meetings, I sometimes arrive with my jacket, which is soon dispensed but conveys that I am a professional; it is not part of my normal attire.  It is possible to go over the top, and I am as likely to wear walking boots as trainers, which equip me for the outdoor life.  Brogues wouldn’t be the same.

When I became Chairman of the Consulting Arborist Society, and began to organise training events, some queried the calibre of the courses.  However, by commissioning leading trainers and working under the umbrella of Lantra, the programme has gained credibility.  The courses have also benefitted from the process.

It is frustrating when perception is different to reality.  Our role is to work to change this.  In terms of horticulture and arboriculture being seen as low skill, we now have apprenticeships and the R2 scheme to help individuals in their professional development.  It does take time to change perceptions.  Dr. Gary Watson, an international authority on pruning, who spoke at the Barcham Big Barn in 2013, shared how it took a decade for standards of nursery tree production to be improved following the introduction of an agreed best practice specification in the state of California.  With BS8545:2014 having been published in the past year, hopefully UK production standards will have been improved by 2024!

  • Sissinghurstntblog

    Thanks for that very interesting post Jamie, now I just have to remember them! I did know Luma apiculata though because we had it in our plant identification test too at Sissinghurst this week. Our luma is in the White Garden and is a lot smaller, I didn’t realise they grew so big! Helen