What I learned #3: Get out. Why you need to leave.


Travel is like running your business. You need to leave. Think about the last time you left for a trip. You rushed around trying to get last minute tasks done, knowing you would be there for a few days or a week. You were hyper efficient and even up until you ran out the door to catch the plane, you were still trying to squeeze one last task in. 

The last time this happened to me I was leaving for a 5-day board meeting out of town. I kept finding one more thing to do until I had to get  in the car and hit the road. As I pulled out of the drive way, the feelings of doing one more thing slowly started ebbing. The further I went, the less the pull of those nagging responsibilities.  

Halfway to the airport I felt a shifting of gears to acceptance – I was not going to be in my office for 5 days and I needed to engage in the task at hand. I had to let go of the routines, the habits I left back at the office.  

Routine and rut both start with ‘R”. You need routines, you need habits to be effective in your business. The trick is that you have to make the habits and routines positive so they run your life on autopilot in the right direction. Habits and routines, good or bad, have a way of slipping from view. It’s not really a habit if you have to think about it.  

Once a habit slips from your view, once you go on autopilot, you do the behaviors you’ve trained without thinking. You need to periodically break all ties with potential routines to you can look at your habits, your programmed behaviors, from a more universal viewpoint.  

Do you know someone on autopilot? Chances are, this person that instantly came to mind is not using positive habits. You probably thought of someone who is spiraling out of control and “can’t see it” happening. They are on autopilot to disaster.  

You know THEY need to “snap out of it”, “look around”, “get his head out of the sand”, “wake up” to what they are doing. They need to “leave” their present lives and examine themselves from another viewpoint.  

We can all think of extreme examples. Television makes a mint on cheap shows about people who are on autopilot for eating, doing drugs, spiraling out of control. The uplifting nature of the shows shines when the subjects go to “The Ranch” where trainers introduce them to the reality of their current lifestyles. It makes excellent melodrama. How many times did you sit there and say,“Well duh! You’re 500lbs! Can’t you see that you need to change?!”  

Well, no. They can’t and neither can you. None of us can see the changes that we need to make in our own lives because we live with ourselves everyday. These “big changes” we need snuck up on us slowly over time. That poor contestant didn’t gain 400 lbs in a week! She gained it 1lb a week for 8 years. 

So did you. The way you talk to your wife, the way you hate everything Jane from accounting does, the way you waste time on Facebook at work; that all snuck up on you slowly over time. 

You need to leave. You need to call a time out, not for vacation, but for self-analyzation. You may also need a vacation, but if that vacation is just a “drug of avoidance”, you will returnunchanged to the same routine that caused you to need the vacation in the first place. 

You need to leave to reposition yourself for the next year. You need to examine the things you do on autopilot. You need to list 1 thing you want to put on autopilot for the next year. 

I call it puttering. It’s what I do before I leave on a trip. My wife does it, too. Straightening items on my desk. Checking thermostats. Setting online back-ups to run. Syncing devices. Putting away paper clips. Puttering.  

There’s a time for puttering. Let yourself have it. Just know what it is and that you are just trying to grasp what you can of your old routine and old rut before you know you’ll be torn away from them. Go ahead and putter, then leave.  

Get on the plane. Go to a new coffee shop. Go to a college campus and stake out an unused classroom. Go somewhere else where you don’t have the things you are used to and take time.  

Take time to examine what you’re doing, what you’re doing without knowing your doing it, what you want to be doing and what you want to be doing without thinking about it. 

You need to leave. Your life, no matter how busy, will be waiting for you when you get back, but you might find yourself a whole new person; newly able to tackle it’s challenges. 

Have a great week, 

PS Like the past few posts? Why not become a subscriber to the Maize Quest Insiders Circle – It’s FREE. You’ll never miss a post, receive Insider Circle quarterly newsletter, get exclusive previews to events and discounts on new games and attractions.

Hugh McPherson

“The Maze Master”
Maize Quest

What I learned #2: Trust your people.

The plight of the entrepreneur: How do you trust others to do what you do when you know you do it the best? Many of us still work every day in our businesses. You are the best at it. I know I’m the best at Maize Quest Fun Park – every dang position in the park and on the tractor and on the microphone and at parties and at campfires and at… you get the picture. You might even have been picturing yourself at your farm, out there being the best!That’s nice, but it’s reeeeeealy limiting. If you’re the only one who can do it, you just can’t get very big. Being you doesn’t scale very well. You really have no choice in the matter. You have to trust your people or you have to stay small.

You know you are supposed to delegate, but you’ve been burned! You got burned when that person didn’t follow-up as well as you would have. You got burned when your party hostess wasn’t as energetic as you could have been. You got burned when the pies got burned because you weren’t baking them. It seems like only you know how to get everything just right.

Some people think delegating is terrifying. I think being the only one who can do everything isMORE terrifying. Here’s how I got around it and began to trust my people.

1. Accept that you can’t do everything. I say it out loud. I say it to the employees and to interviewees. I say it to my wife. I say it to the mirror. You need to do the same. You may need to print it out on a label that you put on your computer monitor. “I can’t do everything.” Repetition and constant reminders get you in the mindset to think about how you can get help.

2. Pick the easy things to hand off first. In the previous email, you should have written out a list of things that waste your time. This is a place to start finding tasks to hand off.

Ex. I was calling in the bakery order each week. One week I had too much to do, so I asked Dee if she thought she could call in the order. She said, “Of course!” I told her, I’d help her figure out the quantities then she could take it from there. Job done. I never called in another order all year. Why was I calling it in myself? Only because my mom had always done it.

3. Set your people up for success. Before you hand anything off, set up a system so your people can be successful. The Fun Park gets opened right every day, not because I’m there barking orders, but because we have a simple system of checklists. I can stay in the office working until the first school bus rolls in because I know the gang can follow the list and get it done.

4. Make the big decisions, delegate the details. Recently, we had a number of items to list on eBay to sell. This takes a huge amount of time, so I walked through the process with Eric and he made all the listings, loaded the pictures, found comparison pricing, got everything ready to go.All I had to do was spend 1 minute per item reviewing the listing and click “List Item” to complete the task. 

You cannot do it all, even if you are the best. Get started on the simple 4 step process listed above. See if you can’t hand off even 1-2 tasks per week to your people. They will feel great and you will feel relieved.

Trust your people. They really can do it.

Have a great week,

PS One last thing: Coach, don’t criticize. My rule is 80% – If a staff member can do it 80% as well as I can, I hand it off. If they mess up, I coach them. The tendency is to pounce on your employee the second they fall even minutely short.

You might say things such as, “I knew they couldn’t do it!” or “I knew I’d have to do it!” or “Just get out of the way and I’ll do it!” WRONG.

Instead, use the coaching method of questioning. Say, “Well, that wasn’t quite it. What could you do to get up to standard?” or “How could you do things more quickly next time?” or “What didn’t I tell you that would have helped you…”

Consider each reaction in the framework of “the goal is to never have to do it again”, not “Can I make sure everyone knows I’m the best at everything.”

Good luck, and by the way, this is hard to do. Luckily, it’s totally worth it.

What I learned #1: 3 Reasons to Identify Time Wasters

Emailing multiple versions of files.
Telling the staff what to do at closing time.
Remembering the recipe.
Finding your vehicle registration.
How do we build those bridges?
Who’s on the clock?
What does she want for her birthday theme?
We always do the graphic layout that way.
Now I have to call all the staff on shift to tell them that…
Did that campfire get enough wood?Time. Busy, busy, busy. If only we had more time. Time keeps on ticking into the future. Time waits for no man. A stitch in time saves nine. Busy, busy, busy. We all waste time. Sometimes on purpose, but mostly we’re so busy we can’t see that we may be active, but we aren’t being effective. We’re filling every waking moment, but we’re wasting time.

I realized that we had some broken systems when this season we grew the business, but found ourselves drowning in work. At one point I realized that we couldn’t get much bigger, unless we got a whole lot better. We had to stop wasting time.

To do this, we began with a meeting between the top staff to discover the tasks, items, calls, questions that were sucking away our productive time. You might call it a “bitch session”, but you have to start somewhere. Generally, even “bitching” is based in some fact, on some real annoyance.

Throughout this process, we discovered a few very interesting reasons why you occasionally have to stop working and look at the way you work.

Here are some reasons why you, too, need to stop working to identify your time wasters.

1. Time is the most valuable asset a business possesses. Your time. Your staff’s time. Your guest’s time. It is incredibly valuable and you are wasting it – needlessly.

2. New time creates opportunities. You increase your business and personal capacity if you eliminate time wasting activities. Time = Opportunity. Notice I said, opportunity, not money. You have the opportunity to eat dinner with your kids. Your staff has the opportunity to do the real work that makes clients happy. Your sales team has the opportunity to make more calls. Your party planner has the time to get things right on the first order. You have to eliminate time wasters or you are handicapping your business and your people.

3. It boosts morale. If you take the time to listen to your employees, coworkers and partners, you may find that they can save your time and you can save their time. Happy employees take good care of your guests. If your people are so busy they can’t think straight, they will make mistakes and your clients will suffer.

We had so many group leaders calling asking the same questions Michelle nearly had a breakdown. She was stuck doing busy work instead of caring for guests. Our system was broken and it wears your staff out.

4. Bonus #1:  No offense, but you can’t even see the big time wasters in your business. Time wasters creep in slowly, you have to stop working to see them. Systems get old. Technology gets slow. Employees and owners alike develop systems to cope with the broken process. No one will say, “Hey, here’s a big time waster!” Likely they will soldier on looking very busy indeed.

If you don’t stop working you can’t spot time wasters. Your homework for the week is to hold a meeting and ask your family, management or other top-level people in your organization two simple questions:

“What takes up most of your time?”
“What do you feel really wastes your time?”

Have a great week,

PS Bonus #2 If you really want to get feedback, have each person right his or her name on 3×5 cards or sticky note and answer the questions above for himself or herself. After they hand the cards in, have them write down the person’s name seated to the right of each of them, and answer the questions for that person.

Post the notes clustered by each person’s name on the wall or white board so everyone can see each person’s internal and external time challenges.

It’s especially interesting to learn what others observe about how we each spend our time.

I’m sorry. Where has 2013 gone?

I really am sorry. It’s been a crazy 12 months full of opportunities, struggles and just life in general. I know that many of you have enjoyed reading my blog/email about agritourism, business ownership and farm life. This year I just couldn’t do everything I wanted to; I just couldn’t get the time to write for you and I’m sorry. 

I never really thought I’d be a writer, and you can tell my style is pretty informal – to say it politely. Hearing back from so many friends in the farm entertainment industry has made it a life-line for me, and hopefully for you. Through writing, I found that I was not alone. There were other crazy people just like me trying to figure things out. Trying to make their businesses work better. Trying to be more profitable, just as I was and as I am. 

So, I hope you’ll accept my apology. Heck, you can write to me about your crazy year, too. I’ll listen. 

The good news is this: I learned a lot this year. I got put through the wringer of change and new ideas and I’d like to share them with you over the winter months and maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to hold it together throughout the 2014 season for you. 

There is much more ready to come your way. If you’d take just 2 minutes, I’d love to hear from you what you specifically are interested in learning about over the winter months. Click here to check a few boxes and help me get aimed in the right direction. 

Thanks for reading, emailing, comment and all the encouragement over the years. As we go into our 18th season at the Maize Quest Fun Park, I look forward to learning and growing together with you. 

Have a great week, 

PS Would you like a preview? Let me share this: We didn’t have a perfect crew this year, did visit Great Wolf Lodge (3 part series), hired a marketing company (yes, I hired a marketing company), experimented with an aerial drone, had the largest 7 days of farm and maze revenue in our history, we’re completely renovating our computer/files/server system, and we increased pumpkin sales 62%.

It’s all coming up through the blog. Can’t wait to tell you all about it.

“Don’t get squashed by yourself.” S.U.M.O. practice for farmers.


…Continuing our series looking at Paul McGee’s S.U.M.O. (Shut Up and Move On) strategies, we’re looking at #3 and #4. If you look back to last week’s #1 and #2, we were working through our individual reactions to any given situation. We are to ask ourselves, “Where is this issue on a scale of 1-10 and 10 = DEATH? and How important will this be to me in 6 months time?

Both those questions zoomed out our perspective and worked to frame the issue appropriately using a long time scale. The real power in S.U.M.O. comes, I feel, from McGee’s next two questions because they are designed to engage you on a personal level.

#3 Is my response appropriate and effective? We all want people to do what we want them to do. The trouble is, we have no control over their actions and reactions. Tough as it is to accept, we can only control ourselves.

Here’s a chart of Appropriate/Inappropriate, Effective/Ineffective to illustrate the concept that we can only control our personal actions.

Appropriateness chart for blog

Think of a time when you have experienced each of these potential outcomes to your actions or reactions. Using the abbreviations, I’ve provided a few examples.

  • A/E: You see an employee doing a great job with a customer. You encourage the employee and praise her publicly. She continues to improve and turns into one of your star employees, helping others along the way. This was Appropriate and Effective.
  • IA/E: You scream at a vendor and they rush to fulfill your request. It gets done, but the relationship is never the same. It was effective, temporarily, but not an appropriate response.
  • A/IE: You politely request for the third time that your young employee come in on time. Sure, you kept your tone appropriate, but it will likely not modify the employees behavior.
  • IA/IE: Your wife fails to notify you that the in-laws are coming for the weekend. You flip out, curse their names, slam the door and shatter the glass on a cold December night. Riiiight, you get the picture you are WAY inappropriate and COMPLETELY ineffective…. and now you are cold, out some money for a window, still spending the weekend with your in-laws, only you’ll be sleeping on the couch to boot!

Don’t get squashed by yourself. The key is that YOU are in complete control of your response. It may not always feel like it, but taking just a moment to consider your words and actions can save you from being IA or IE and maybe even M.I.A. (as I would be if I ever tried to pull that last trick with my wife 🙂 Don’t squash yourself with IA/IE responses you may regret later. Focus on improving the situation.


#4 How can I influence or improve the situation? After identifying the type of response you plan to give, you need to choose your words and actions. #4 focuses your energy on “influence and improvement.”

Have you ever seen people “pile on”? Kids are famous for it, but I’ve seen adults do it, too. Someone starts complaining about “Bobby”. Then, anyone within earshot comes in to “throw another jab”, “remember another time” when Bobby failed, and before long “everyone hates Bobby.” How could you approach this situation with a focus on improvement?

If you find your kids arguing, do you pile on the complaints? Send everyone away? Add your own yelling? How can you focus your reaction to the situation on improvement.

This week, take the next two steps and personalize your reaction to situations by (#3) identifying the appropriateness and effectiveness of your reactions, then (#4) focusing on how you can influence and improve the situation in a positive way. We’ll finish the series next time, until then, have a great week as you practice your S.U.M.O.!


“S.U.M.O.” Farmers? Part 1 of 3


Paul McGee says, He has a very pragmatic approach to dealing with customer situations, management issues and daily interactions I just love. Over the past few years he has expanded his program to be taught in schools to kids to Stop, Understand and Move On. I’ll do my best to explain how to apply his philosophy to your life in 3 sessions. If you like the blog posts, I really suggest the buying his book here.

1. Where is this issue on a scale of 1-10? McGee adds, “And 10 is death!” What he’s doing is reframing the issue in a broader perspective. Perspective shift, or time shift is a way to look at the issue that might be smacking you in the face right now and “shifting” that issue into it’s future historical context.
Let’s say that your son doesn’t return the gas can full. You go for gas, no gas. You get mad and begin yelling. He starts yelling. Bad situation.
S.U.M.O. strategy: Call a time out. Rate the issue in your head knowing that a “10” equals death. Gas can is likely a 4 or less. Restart the conversation explaining what just happened in your head to your son.
Hugh’s example: Back when I was engaged to my lovely bride, we went to pick out silverware. I love cool unique stuff. Janine likes clean classic lines. After exhorting the awesomeness of the “natural twig sculpted handles” for something like an hour, I realized that on a scale of 1-10, silverware was not something important to me. It was more like a “1”. As I was already getting hungry, I just wanted to eat and I’d use a gardening shovel if I had to.
2. How will I feel about this in six months? This is the second reframing question and it’s a great one. I find myself using this with the kids as they get into petty bickering and nit-picking each other. I like to make them tell my how they are going to remember the specific things they are arguing about in six months.
I like questions such as, “Tell me Ian, which part of what you are saying right now to your sister would you like to have me remind you of in December? Which part of this conversation is so important we should write it down and post on the walls in your rooms? (I love that one:-).
Just making them stop to try to choose the important parts, puts an end to the momentum of the fight.
So, just using these first two strategies, how can you change the way you are currently interacting with an employee or how can you use these in making decisions in your life?
Here’s one more to start your thinking: “You know what, babe, I’d rather spend more of our time together at any restaurant than arguing about which one.”
I know it’s simple, but the best ideas are. Let me know how it works for you and stay tuned for next week’s edition.
Have a great week,

“What would it take to make you happy?”

postive thinking

Norman Vincent Peale

Happiness. Chased forever by so many people, but why is happiness so elusive? What would it take to make you happy? Many of us would list “success” in one form or another as the method to achieve happiness. Shawn Achor says that “Happiness is achieved first, then success will come.” Norman Vincent Peale’s quote above gives us the instant power to choose happiness each day.

Three steps to happiness.
1. Don’t wait for it. You might as well choose to be happy now because you’ll never have enough money to be happy. Studies have shown that at ANY income level, the interviewed people believed that true wealth and happiness was double their current income. It didn’t matter if you were making $40,000 or $400,000 dollars, happiness lay just beyond your reach.
2. Don’t discount the power of choice. As trap in your circumstances as you believe you are, you always have a choice. Our lives are so comfortable that we strive to eliminate all pain from our lives. I believe people have become so incredibly weak spirited because they are not forced to experience pain as often as they should. Eric Thomas says, “Pain is temporary. You ain’t gonna die because you experience a little pain. On the other side of pain is success.” Your choices might cause a little pain, but you always have a choice.
3. Don’t overlook your joy. The older my kids get the more I realize that I don’t need to go anywhere special, buy anything expensive, eat fancy food, sell 10 more attractions; I just want to get home earlier and read a book about clay dragons coming to life with my son or play my trumpet with my daughter playing her clarinet. Are you overlooking joy that is already in your life?
What if it’s not as complicated as we make it out to be? What if happiness is closer than we ever imagined? What if it’s already inside us just waiting to be unleashed into the rest of our lives?
Here’s your challenge of the week: As you plant that tree, sell that flower, plow that field, make that sale, I challenge you to take a few seconds to live in that moment of joy, of victory, of happiness and really enjoy it. You can then get back to work, but don’t let the chance to enjoy that little slice of happiness slip away.
Have a great week,
PS It was in about 9th grade when I found a personal development tape set in my mom’s personal library of tapes from Norman Vincent Peale’s Power of Positive Thinking called “Which face will you put on today?” My 2nd challenge for you is, Can you get something like this into the hands of a teenager or young person? It literally changed my life for the better and you better believe that my kids are going to hear it, too.