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

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…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.

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#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

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Curses upon you from your last convention.

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I love conventions, but I routinely come home cursed. You do too, you just don’t know it. You come home cursed by Knowledge, Group Think, and Greener Pastures. These curses render you ineffective, manipulate your emotions, change your spending habits, and leave you less competitive.

The Curse of Knowledge. (The Curse of Knowledge is derived from the book “Made to Stick” by Chip & Dan Heath.) The minute you know stuff, you can’t un-know it and by knowing it you can’t imagine that anyone else in the world doesn’t know it. Follow that? You returned from your convention knowing stuff. It might have been in a session presented by a fellow operator, might have been an industry leader, might have been a keynote speaker or book author.

They told you that local food, for instance, is, as a trend, exploding. Everywhere the speaker looks local food is a rising tide that’s going to raise all boats. Local food is the center core of everything you should believe in and work on this entire year.

You probably came home and expounded to your staff/family/friends that local food was a blah, blah, blah. It is key to notice that the speaker also writes local food cookbooks, takes local food based vacations, specifically hangs out in farmers markets, and personally has dedicated her food budget to local food. She can’t possibly imagine a world without local food because her whole world is based in local food.

When you come home, you must deal with your world; the world in which you meet people everyday whose lives are not focused on local food. You have to sell to them.  We talk to each other at conventions and we’re talking/preaching to the choir, so it’s not surprising that we’re all on board with local food, corn mazes, pick-your-own, etc. We do it everyday. We can’t possibly imagine a world without those things.

A simple example: We, because we built it, know where everything is in the market, in our farm parks, and in our parking lot. As we jubilantly complained about “how dumb our customers are” and “how they can’t park cars in our open grassed fields”, we are blatantly demonstrating, embarrassingly demonstrating, “The Curse of Knowledge”: If you drove to a strange place, saw buildings you’ve never seen, we’re directed, loosely at best, into a wide-open grass field, would you be able to park?! Nope.

They say, “What you don’t know can’t hurt you.” the converse is “What you do know can hurt you.” If you and I insist on blindly knowing what we know, the Curse of Knowledge can separate us from our guests.

The Curse of Group Think. Sharing ideas. What a beautiful culture in our agritourism businesses. What flew, What flopped. Each of us takes turns presenting our successes for the year and inevitably we, as the audience for the presentation, take notes to implement those successes in our operations.

Sounds great, right? YES. Unequivocally, YES. It is one of the greatest tools for self-improvement in our industry. Also, NO. It is a terrible idea and it needs to stop. Ok, balance is the right goal with the Curse of Group Think. As we are listening to these stories, our mental filter must be running in overdrive.

Why filter these ideas? We, as an industry, must avoid homogenization. It’s great for milk, bad for business. I talked to a number of operators who were noticing that, over time, many operations start to look the same; they homogenize. Name the top 5 fall harvest attractions: Pumpkins, Hayrides, Corn Mazes, Corn Box, Straw Bale Jump. Everybody’s got’em!

We spend a lot of time and energy homogenizing our attractions which is exactly the WRONG thing to do. People visit our farms specifically because we’re different and unique. I’m not advocating a complete abandonment of implementing best practices and best attractions, but you need your filter in overdrive with specific intent to know your local competition and add the parameter of “How unique is this attraction?” to your discussion of “What should we add this year?”

The Curse of Greener Pastures. You, quite frankly, want what your neighbor’s got. At conventions this is magnified to “You want what the best farm three states away has got.” Oh, how green the grass looks like over there! I’m so totally guilty of this I just came home to start planning my winery/corporate party center/brewery/concert stage/museum/hedge maze/wood-fired-oven/wedding venue.

You want what your neighbor’s got! You just saw a great presentation on it! The pictures were amazing! It was the best thing they ever did for their farm! Wait — Did you catch that? It was the best thing they ever did for their farm. Are you chasing someone else’s dream or your own? Pastures have a way of looking greenest after someone takes a lot of time and goes through a lot of s&$t.

It is sooooooooo tempting to look at that beautiful green grass and come home to plan your winery/corporate party center/brewery/concert stage/museum/hedge maze/wood-fired-oven/wedding venue regardless of who you are, what your location and resources are, and what it really takes to run it as successfully as the person who presented at the conference does. This Curse is deadly because is can change your planning, spending, management needs, and throw your operation on it’s head only to find out that their dream is not even what you wanted.

Group think, specifically continuously creating your farm in another farm’s image, destroys the most powerful competitive advantage we have: We’re authentically different. As you evaluate your options for this season, release yourself from the curse of knowledge, the curse of group think, the curse of greener pastures.

Best practices are fine. New ideas are stimulating, but the best thing you can do is be true to your authentic self; be true to your business’s authentic spirit.

Go to conferences. Enjoy the people. Learn from the masters. Take notes. Just make sure you come home blessed, not cursed, by the experience.

Have a great week.
-Hugh

Past Corn Mazes at Maize Quest Fun Park (New Park, PA)

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I was taking a stroll down memory lane and thought I’d post the past mazes from 1997 to 2009, (2010 is not loaded yet). Thinking of how many families and children we’ve entertained is quite motivating for me in the cold of winter. Can’t wait for spring to break and get cracking on the 2011 Adventure… (all copyright MQ, of course)