Water the Flower or Cultivate the Field?

I’ve been busy catching up with the world of podcasts lately, getting productive with Mike Vardy and wrestling nostalgia with Chris Jericho. On a recent episode of Canadaland, the conversation turned to public arts funding. With Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dedicated to supporting the arts, the question arose as to how this money could be best spent… which is analogous to how we should all think about how we spend our resources in our individual lives.

When you’ve only got so much time and you’ve only got so much to go around, are you better off watering the flower or cultivating the field?

In the context of arts funding, the two extremes on this spectrum can be understood as thus. If you choose to water the flower, this means that you will channel your resources toward the one project with the greatest shot at success. How you choose to define success — critical acclaim, awards, monetary benefit — is entirely up to you. The point is that if you have $100 to spend, you put most of that money toward that one project.

On the other end of the spectrum, you might opt to cultivate the field instead. Again continuing with our example of public arts funding, this would mean spreading the wealth among as many artists and projects as possible. The goal isn’t necessarily to boost any one project. Instead, it’s to create an environment where every artist is given an incremental shot in the arm. It’s $1 each to 100 artists, rather than $100 to one artist.

As you can imagine, there are inherent advantages and disadvantages to either approach.

If you choose to “water the flower” in your own life, you lose the opportunity to do all the things you want to do. You are quite literally putting all your eggs in one basket and even that does not guarantee any semblance of success for what that one basket may represent. It’s a big gamble and it’s one that may not pay off. But if it does pay off, you may not have gotten there otherwise.

If you choose to “cultivate the field” instead, you could be setting yourself up for a life of mediocrity. Nothing is going to be exceptional, unless you get remarkably lucky, because you are not focusing on any one area of your life. It’s more balanced, at the cost of being less phenomenal. Nothing is going to be fantastic, per se, but everything will be pretty good.

It’s a difficult choice.

Are you happier eating one stellar $50 steak or ten decent $5 burgers? Are you going to water the flower or cultivate the field?