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  • Writer's pictureJamie Gustafson

A watermelon story: Is Sense of Place in the Workplace Complicated?

Updated: Aug 27, 2023

There I was, dripping in watermelon juice, with the crowd cheering and my teeth

scraping every last morsel off the rind. The stickiness ran down my chin, I chomped and swallowed with unwavering determination, focused on one goal. But let me take you back to the beginning...

It was just an ordinary Sunday, walking the dog as tractors whirred by and sipping our coffee. Then we got a phone call, “Are you going to the fake fair?” the caller asked. He had been there all morning getting his grill ready to cook. How could we turn down the promises of the tallest ear of corn, the best well water, and so much more? We decided to join the excitement.

Banana Rams was filled with families and an electric atmosphere. As we entered, we knew this was the place to be. With no rules or agenda, everyone was united in pursuing fun. We watched others fearlessly tackle challenges and celebrated their efforts. Amidst a spelling bee featuring local teachers, I knew I wouldn't last long. But then came the watermelon eating contest. That was my chance to shine.

Even though a 10-year-old proclaimed his superiority as a watermelon eater, I wasn't bothered. I was happy for his victory and vowed to challenge him next year. The spirit of joy was contagious.

As I walked around with a watermelon-stained shirt, I wondered: do we complicate things needlessly in business with lofty terms like "culture"?

The feeling of belonging was strong and tied me to the people and the space as I chatted with friends and savored delicious food. It dawned on me that the secret sauce of good businesses lies in the simple act of connecting with people.

Creating a sense of place for employees and customers doesn't have to be a complex endeavor. When a community is involved, magic happens. After years of studying and searching for the formula, I realized that human connections truly make a difference. In a village of fewer than 200 people, an event brought together hundreds from near and far. It's a testament to how a small community and business can achieve greatness.

These are the stories that inspire movies and warm our hearts. They should also inspire us to create amazing work environments. When we all embrace challenges, realize failure is not a person but an event, and connect as people, a sense of place is born. It's a place where people feel they belong and are valued.

I failed to receive the blue ribbon that day but still left a winner.

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