What Makes Something Perfect? By Bridget White

While searching for some background noise — something to occupy my mind between bursts of writing — I find myself mesmerized by, of all things, men's Olympic figure skating.

What's holding my attention and now keeping me from my work instead of facilitating it isn't the interesting fashion, patriotism or even the thrill of victory: It's the newly established scoring system.

An attempt to prevent the fraudulent voting that marred the last winter Olympics, the new system involves a complicated point system whereby skaters receive a set number of points for each move (jump, spin, etc.) they execute successfully. A limited number of points are still awarded for artistic expression, but as demonstrated by this year's gold medal winner, you can dominate a competition based solely on technical ability. So while I expected to see a harmony of expressive movements and challenging jumps from the winning Russian, I saw only the latter — admittedly perfect and difficult jumps but connected by only the vaguest choreography and none of the flare I expected.

From my very outsider perspective, this new system seems odd. Isn't this sport supposed to be multifaceted, beauty and technique? My untrained eye cannot see the difference between a triple lutz and a quadruple lutz (or whatever it was). I just know that one guy fell when he tried and one guy didn't. From listening to the commentators, I know the new system makes it better to fall while attempting a jump with more rotations than to land a jump with lesser rotations; you get more points. The new system also seems to distract skaters from the task at hand and focus them more on keeping track of their score: "I fell on the last jump, so if I even hope to medal, I need to insert another jump in the last half of the program so I can get bonus points." Doesn't that break the flow of the program? Disrupt its balance? Change the sport of figure skating?

We're Not So Different

So I bet right about now you're wondering why I'm going on and on about men's figure skating, which by the way, I'm not even a fan of. Maybe it's because I've worked 12-hour days for the past three weeks or because I have a slight fever as I write this, but I really don't think I'm delirious when I say many growers are in a position very similar to that of the Olympic figure skaters.

Don't we manage an increasingly difficult balance between the beauty consumers seek in our product and the technical requirements demanded by the real judges, the buyers? Long since have passed the days when growing a beautiful plant was enough to be successful and make a good living. Floriculture is no longer about what you as the grower think is beautiful. If you want to be really successful in this business it's about what you can grow and ship economically, what you think will sell the fastest and what the buyer will take the most of.

Our perspective from inside the industry leaves us a bit jaded. Most of us don't see a beautiful plant when we spot a hanging basket at a garden center; we see its slight imperfections, we wonder about wholesale price, we give it a grade.

Is this so bad; isn't it just part of turning what you love into your profession? Isn't this what everyone in a similar position goes through? I don't know, but I bet those Olympic figure skaters don't think about all the technical issues of floriculture when they stand on the winner's podium posing for photos, medal outstretched in one hand, flowers in the other. They assume growing flowers is all love and sunshine; I guess we can keep our secrets, and they can keep theirs.

Bridget White

Bridget White, Editorial Director

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