I’m sorry. Where has 2013 gone?

HughandSamtheGiraffe
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, 
Hugh 

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

hand-frame-fingers

…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.

Support_GroupPeopleRing

#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.!

-Hugh

“S.U.M.O.” Farmers? Part 1 of 3

SumoPic1

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,
Hugh

“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,
Hugh
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.

Down The Rabbit Hole.

Alice-in-front-of-rabbit-hole

 

All I need to do is get these three things done. OK item one: Send that package. OK to do that I need to gather everything up. OK to do that I need print that out. OK well, that really needs to be edited. OK to really edit it I need to re-read it and get out my red pen. OK I need to print it. OK I need to get more ink for the printer. OK I need to get on Amazon to get the ink, OK Hey, that looks neat I’ll get one of those while I’m on here and save time. OK but I better check reviews on this 2nd item. OK and on and on and on… then 2 hours later… Hey, what was I working on? Oh, crap I missed sending that package!

Ever have this happen? This is going “Down the rabbit hole.”
The Task Dominos. I find a good way to think of things is in a hierarchy of Vision, MIssion, Objective, Project, Task. 

Here’s a VERY basic example: 
Vision: To make the agriculture entertainment world so fun people would rather visit farms than theme parks. 
Mission: Build up our attraction clients into profitable, fun destinations. 
Objective: Create incredibly fun attractions. 
Project: Develop & perfect the Barnyard Board Game attraction. 
Task: Choose the best paint colors for the blocks.

Mostly we find ourselves in realm of tasks because, quite frankly, things need to get done. Tasks are the lowest level of operating, however, which can create those days in which you do a loot of things and never get anything done. You actually did get tasks done, but you feel frustrated because you didn’t move any of your Objectives or Missions forward. You wake up dreaming about your vision, but the task dominos start falling and you struggle to keep your head above water. You struggle to stay out of the rabbit hole.
Projects. The next layer we often reach is the project level. You want to install a new attraction. You want to renovate your web site. You want to serve fried food. This is a very useful, practical level. My trick is to organize my projects by file folders. I do this to keep things off my desk, collect a to-do list of tasks, and especially to allow me to collect information in a safe place and keep myself from working on the project until I have time for it. I find a new web site or brochure that I need for the fried food project, but I’m working on our marketing plan – throw it in the folder for later.

Technology aside: I also use Evernote to scan and store information I might need in the future, but don’t want to clutter up amy desk with a hard copy. It’s free at Evernote.com. The scanner is about $400. The key is that I’m clearing my mind and desk, because I know I can get it instantly with a search in Evernote. I don’t need to remember the details.

Target your Objectives. We’re only going as high as Objectives today, because if you can master this level, you’ll have plenty of time to work on the next two, Mission and Vision. You Objective level is: Increase the food & beverage revenue and enjoyment at our farm. OR Decrease marketing costs by 10% while growing social media engagement by 50%.

You can see how each of these would have multiple projects, large and small, beneath it. Each project would then have a series of tasks. You can also see how keeping all of this straight is nearly impossible. It’s probably becoming obvious that you could run down the rabbit hole on any of these objectives, projects or task lists.

What to do about it.
Name your nemesis. In Harry Potter, the nemesis of our hero Harry is Voldemort. He inspires such incredible fear in the land that people call him “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named” because saying his name, eventually (spoiler alert) reveals the location of rebellious people. Harry persists in using Voldemort’s name throughout the series as a direct form of rebellion. Naming the problem reduces it’s power over you.

Writing is better than thinking. Not only should you write and name your tasks and problems and challenges and opportunities, you must take it a step further. You must write down every single task, activity, process, script, video, brochure, person, action necessary to wipe this project off you list.
Writing it all down is giving the project or problem a “Name” so it’s not floating around in your mind. It becomes concrete and workable. It’s just hard to get in the habit of writing things down.

Top 5 Reasons Why You Don’t Write Things Down:
  1. It’s all in my head. I know what I’m doing. Bulls**t. I’m just calling b******t on this one and you can’t dispute it. At one time or another “it’s all in your head”, but it isn’t right now or you’d be done with the project and laughing at me instead of desperately reading this for a solution. Did you know that cognitive research has determined that humans can barely capture, contain and control seven individual directives or channels in our minds at once? How many of you have more than seven projects underway right now? How many of those projects have more than seven tasks yet to complete? Right. It physiologically can’t be all in your head, so don’t put it there. Write it down. All of it.
  2. If I sat down and wrote it all out, I’d never get anything done! Picture in your mind one of those days when you ran at full speed all day only to realize that you got nothing accomplished. You and I waste so much time each and everyday putting out fires, checking email, starting and stopping projects and racing down the rabbit hole that we actually HAVE the time to do the planning!
  3. Reacting feels like action. The biggest problem in my work world is that reacting feels like action. You know the feeling: An email comes in with a guest or customer order or complaint. You jump in as the hero and solve the problem! Great! Then, you check you other email and off you go down the rabbit hole until another emergency arises! You swoop in to save the day! By the end of the day, you’ve moved NONE of your projects forward and you wonder why you feel lousy.
  4. Someone might hold you accountable, maybe even you. Let’s be honest: You don’t want to be criticized. If you write an objective down and you don’t achieve it on time, someone could call you on it and you certainly will know you didn’t do it. Even the fear of self-criticism prevents us from writing things down.
  5. Writing things down makes them real and stifles my creative thinking. I must be free! Sometimes I have to writing the stuff that goes through my head down just to laugh at how stupid it really is. I used to say this to myself! I’m an idea guy I can’t be constrained by lists, man. What a bunch of crap. Writing things down keeps you from believing this stuff your brain makes up to try to avoid accountability. I routinely have to pull myself back from the land of make-believe, because we live in the real world. One of my favorite quotes is: “You’ll deal with reality sooner or later, so you might as well deal with it now on your own terms.” – Todd Bieler.
How to try it out, the easy way.
I know this sounds like a big deal and huge time drain, so to make it accessible for you to try out, to sample. I suggest you do these 3 Steps for just ONE Project. If you like it, repeat the process for your other projects, just do it ONE AT A TIME to keep it light and easy.
  1. Get a file folder and label it for your project. (Ex: Build a Corn Box).
  2. Place all the pictures, brochures, web sites and information you’ve ever collected on Corn Boxes into the folder.
  3. Use a BLANK sheet of paper to brainstorm for 5-10 minutes all the tasks, items, materials, costs, procedures, people, other operators to call, EVERYTHING you can think of that you might have to do to build this box – just write in down in any order as fast and free as you can. (This is a good time to involve your staff in the process if they will be a part of it.
  4. Use a 2nd BLANK sheet and organize the tasks neatly by kind (i.e. Construction, Staffing, Equipment, Financial, Location etc.)
  5. Type (preferred) or use a BLANK a lined pice of paper to organize the tasks by the order you THINK they should be done or MUST be done down to the most minute detail. (NOT “order materials”, BUT “draw plans, count 2x4s, count 4x4s, measure cubic ft for concrete, estimate shingles, choose paint color, etc.)
Sound like a lot of work? It’s not because once you do this for maybe 1 hour, you NEVER HAVE TO THINK ABOUT IT AGAIN. You just have to do the things on the list and you’ll have a Corn Box.

That’s the magic. That’s why it works. Your brain is free to think about the next project because this one is off the table. It’s planned. It’s done. No longer will you chase this project down the rabbit hole because you’ll know exactly what to do.

I want so desperately for you to be successful that I took my time to share this with you. Let me know if you do this on just one project and it helps. Let me know how it feels when your first folder is done. Try it. I dare you. You’re brain will thank you 🙂
Have a great week,
Hugh

Find Hugh at:

www.cornmaze.com

www.mazecatalog.com

www.mazefunpark.com

Twitter: @themazemaster

Communicating your core. Are you neglecting your center?

Sun_diagram_chandra

Behaviors are surface. So much of what we do deals with behaviors. We want behavior modification for our employees. We try to incentivize the right behaviors. You have good behavior. I have bad behavior. The trouble with behavior is that, by the time you see a behavior you don’t like, things have been changing for that person long ago and deep within themselves. Behaviors sit on the surface.

Values are core. Behaviors are like solar winds. They are the last things thrown off by the nuclear reaction in a star. In that star’s core is the reaction that generates the heat, the gravity, the energy the light. So what’s at your core? What generates the heat and light in your life that radiates into the world around you?

Finding your core. Go somewhere quietly and write down why you are in business.The easiest way to keep digging is to keep asking yourself “Why?”

Why am I in business? To make money.
Why do I want to make money? To get a great car.
Why do I want a great car? Because it makes me feel good.
Why does the great car make me feel good? Because people notice me.
Why do I want people to notice me? Because I like the attention.
Why do I like the attention? Because it makes me feel valuable.
Why do I need to feel valuable? Because I want my life to matter.
Why do should my life matter? Because…

See how you get to some interesting places? It works on business initiatives, too. Just substitute “How?” for “Why?”

Why are we in business? To make money.
How do you make money? We sell apples.
How do you make money selling apples? We charge more than it costs to grow them.
How do you get to charge more? We sell direct to the customers who visit.
How do you get customers to visit? We advertise, promote in the media, and post social media to convince customers to visit.
How do you convince them? We offer a premium product.
How do you prove it’s premium? We…..

See how using this strategy allows you to blast some assumptions? This leads you past “we always have done it”, “people have just been coming for years”, “Word of mouth is all that works”, “Everyone knows that we (fill in the blank)” – insert any assumption you are making and eventually you’ll work your way to the core of the problem which is, What is your core?

I can’t answer this for you. It’s your core. You alone can plumb the depths of your being to determine the value, the purpose you bring to the world each and every day. I can tell you it is likely that not enough people know your core and your business’ core. I’m sure you don’t communicate it often enough.

Why it matters. Neglecting your core has a number of unintended consequences.

For you. Neglecting your core leads to frustrating days when you are really busy and don’t feel like you’ve gotten anything done. (Ever have one of those?!) When this happens to me, typically, I was not focusing on the right activities, even though I was doing tasks. I wasn’t moving forward the greater purpose of my life. Even accounting (the bane of my existence), has meaning when framed in the purpose of providing for my family, our family of operators and caring for guests.

For your employees. You job is to be successful in your business so the bills get paid, employees payroll checks clear and the business moves forward to a happy future. When you start neglecting your core, a number of things start going wrong. You start doing jobs you shouldn’t be doing. Are you doing minimum wage jobs? Jobs teenagers can do? You are stealing from the company and you’ll start getting frustrated because, the bathroom needs cleaned, but that’s not your core responsibility. You have to stop and look around, metaphorically, to see if you are really focusing on the core of the business.

For your guests. No one can care for your guests like you do. One of your core values likely is (approximately) providing an environment of wonder for your guests so they can’t help but talk about your business. If you drift from this core value, your guests will notice. Make sure you are on the front line, not necessarily the front register, of greeting and ensuring your guests are well cared for.

At the Fun Park, our core is a mantra: Make people happy. Three little words my teenagers have memorized before orientation is over, yet everything they do, we do, we train them to do gets filtered through it. It is our core.

What’s at your core? Take some time to thoughtfully consider it between now and the new year. You’ll find a whole lot more motivation in this one exercise then in a thousand New Year’s Resolutions.

Resolutions typically have to do with behaviors, but behaviors are just on the surface.What matters more, what motivates more is what’s in the center.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a great week.
Hugh

See Maize Quest’s attractions for entertainment farms at:

www.MazeCatalog.com

Communicating your core. Are you neglecting your center?

Sun_diagram_chandra

Behaviors are surface. So much of what we do deals with behaviors. We want behavior modification for our employees. We try to incentivize the right behaviors. You have good behavior. I have bad behavior. The trouble with behavior is that, by the time you see a behavior you don’t like, things have been changing for that person long ago and deep within themselves. Behaviors sit on the surface.

Values are core. Behaviors are like solar winds. They are the last things thrown off by the nuclear reaction in a star. In that star’s core is the reaction that generates the heat, the gravity, the energy the light. So what’s at your core? What generates the heat and light in your life that radiates into the world around you?

Finding your core. Go somewhere quietly and write down why you are in business.The easiest way to keep digging is to keep asking yourself “Why?”

Why am I in business? To make money.
Why do I want to make money? To get a great car.
Why do I want a great car? Because it makes me feel good.
Why does the great car make me feel good? Because people notice me.
Why do I want people to notice me? Because I like the attention.
Why do I like the attention? Because it makes me feel valuable.
Why do I need to feel valuable? Because I want my life to matter.
Why do should my life matter? Because…

See how you get to some interesting places? It works on business initiatives, too. Just substitute “How?” for “Why?”

Why are we in business? To make money.
How do you make money? We sell apples.
How do you make money selling apples? We charge more than it costs to grow them.
How do you get to charge more? We sell direct to the customers who visit.
How do you get customers to visit? We advertise, promote in the media, and post social media to convince customers to visit.
How do you convince them? We offer a premium product.
How do you prove it’s premium? We…..

See how using this strategy allows you to blast some assumptions? This leads you past “we always have done it”, “people have just been coming for years”, “Word of mouth is all that works”, “Everyone knows that we (fill in the blank)” – insert any assumption you are making and eventually you’ll work your way to the core of the problem which is, What is your core?

I can’t answer this for you. It’s your core. You alone can plumb the depths of your being to determine the value, the purpose you bring to the world each and every day. I can tell you it is likely that not enough people know your core and your business’ core. I’m sure you don’t communicate it often enough.

Why it matters. Neglecting your core has a number of unintended consequences.

For you. Neglecting your core leads to frustrating days when you are really busy and don’t feel like you’ve gotten anything done. (Ever have one of those?!) When this happens to me, typically, I was not focusing on the right activities, even though I was doing tasks. I wasn’t moving forward the greater purpose of my life. Even accounting (the bane of my existence), has meaning when framed in the purpose of providing for my family, our family of operators and caring for guests.

For your employees. You job is to be successful in your business so the bills get paid, employees payroll checks clear and the business moves forward to a happy future. When you start neglecting your core, a number of things start going wrong. You start doing jobs you shouldn’t be doing. Are you doing minimum wage jobs? Jobs teenagers can do? You are stealing from the company and you’ll start getting frustrated because, the bathroom needs cleaned, but that’s not your core responsibility. You have to stop and look around, metaphorically, to see if you are really focusing on the core of the business.

For your guests. No one can care for your guests like you do. One of your core values likely is (approximately) providing an environment of wonder for your guests so they can’t help but talk about your business. If you drift from this core value, your guests will notice. Make sure you are on the front line, not necessarily the front register, of greeting and ensuring your guests are well cared for.

At the Fun Park, our core is a mantra: Make people happy. Three little words my teenagers have memorized before orientation is over, yet everything they do, we do, we train them to do gets filtered through it. It is our core.

What’s at your core? Take some time to thoughtfully consider it between now and the new year. You’ll find a whole lot more motivation in this one exercise then in a thousand New Year’s Resolutions.

Resolutions typically have to do with behaviors, but behaviors are just on the surface.What matters more, what motivates more is what’s in the center.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a great week.
Hugh

See Maize Quest’s attractions for entertainment farms at:

www.MazeCatalog.com