“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,

Curses upon you from your last convention.


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.

Sense and Adjust.

Life on the Farm


Sense and adjust. You just never know what’s coming on the farm. It’s hot, it’s dry, it’s raining, fruit’s early, Labor Day’s late, apple pies are selling, strawberry is not – it can get overwhelming! Mom and Dad have always taught me to “sense and adjust”.

Be decisive. I just love working with our team. We had inventory to take, order, new merchandising and displays to fix speed-of-service issues from the weekend, and lots more. We all stood around, brought our viewpoints, had a heated discussion, but came to a resolution looking at the facts within 20 minutes. Sensed and adjusted. Decision made.

Somebody is good at it. Even on our little team of people, somebody is good at “it”, whatever it is. Dad and I, though often after long debates, end up a pretty good team. I’m a super-delegator; he’s an analytical.

Matt is Mr. Relationship-builder. Linda can’t sleep if the registers are off by $5.00 at the end of the day. Laura, well, I haven’t found anything she can’t do. (You’ll likely see her in the market, making fudge, making doughnuts, stocking, inventory-ing – you get the picture). Frank fixes everything we break, my maze masters know the corn maze pathways cold.

Everyone has his or her place. Whatever the problem, somebody is good at fixing it. It’s the balance that makes this very complex farm and entertainment business go ’round.

How about your balance? Have you ever though about your own balance? You are probably REALLY busy this time of year, but balance is the key to making your life go ’round, too.

Carve out some special time, away from all the busy-ness of this season and make some memories. Escape with your family and let our family do all the work for you; let us take care of you for the day.

Sense and adjust. If you’re not sensing that your family is enjoying the passing time, but instead is just plowing joylessly through to ‘get things done’, adjust. Call a ‘time out’ and carve out some family time this weekend.

The fall weather’s going to be great.

Talk to you next week,
Farmer Hugh

PS Pumpkin picking in the Pumpkin Patch every weekend. See the GIANT Pumpkin Express wagon here.

The morning staff meeting.

Life on the Farm

The morning staff meeting. Most mornings the management staff meeting consists of Dad sitting at his desk, then I walk in and lean on the door frame to his office with my insulated coffee tumbler. I’ll ask, “Anything special going on today?” and we’ll talk through his list and mine as we endeavor to pilot the Maple Lawn Farms ship through the season.

We’re soon joined by Dad’s farm staff, one by one, looking for their assignments, but I like those first few minutes. Today we were talking about the apple crop and how we can continue our transition from producing for packing houses to producing for you, directly.

We discussed the loss we took on our peach crop, burned up in the July sun and heat. It seems, though, that this will be a good season for pick your own apples. The weather already feels like fall, especially in the mornings.

Branches hanging low. As farmers, we have had a lot of challenges this season with a big winter, late spring, hot July, blah, blah, blah. BUT, I’m telling you, it warms our hearts to see branches hanging low, loaded with fruit!

Record picking times. I think you know that our dwarf trees are low to the ground, seldom are ladders needed. You might be surprised to know how quickly you can pick a basket of fruit.

If you wanted a 1/2 bushel of apples from one of our trees this year, it will take you about five minutes – picking all by yourself! That’s fast. You might want to slow down on purpose to sample an apple (yes, samples are allowed for pickers.)

The orchards and market are open M-Sat 8AM-6PM, Sun 1PM-7PM.

The weekend weather looks absolutely gorgeous! After last year’s rained-out October, don’t hesitate when a good weekend smiles upon you.

You never know what tomorrow (or next weekend) may bring.

Talk to you next week,
Farmer Hugh

PS If you know of a Preschool class that might like to join us this fall, find all the information on the web site.

I sent a helicopter…

Life on the Farm

Of course it did. We installed thousands of dollars of irrigation in the corn maze field and it promptly rained. Not that we mind, but you better have a pretty good sense of humor to be in farming. Maybe it was just a test of faith and I guess I failed.

I sent a helicopter…
It reminds me of the man who, as the flood waters rose, proclaimed, “The Lord will save me!”

A neighbor in a boat came by and offered to take the man to higher ground, but he proclaimed again, ‘The Lord will save me!”

Later, a Coast Guard Cutter came by and implored the man to climb aboard but he proclaimed again, ‘The Lord will save me!”

As the water reached the roof of the house a man was lowered to the roof from a helicopter and tried to pull the man to safety, but he proclaimed again, ‘The Lord will save me!”

The house was soon under water and the man died. As he entered the presence of the Lord he said, Lord! Why didn’t you save me?”

The Lord said, “I sent two boats and a chopper. What more did you want?”

Get in the boat. We’re self-reliant people and I didn’t want to be guilty of ignoring the “helicopter”, so we installed the irrigation. In the grand scheme of things, it was a wise insurance policy to make sure we were able to entertain our guests this fall.

None of that makes you feel better when you have to pay that insurance bill for a policy that goes unused, though. I guess it’s still better than collecting on the “policy” with drought stressed corn.

I don’t know about you, but I feel just fine having hopped in the irrigation “boat” just in case 🙂

Talk to you next week,
Farmer Hugh

Life on the Farm: “To each its season.”

To each its season. I love fresh fruit and I was so ready for cherries to be ready, but now I’m craving blueberries (which are just about a week a away.) To each fruit its season.

So it is with life on the farm. First we get ready to plant corn, then we plant like crazy, then we thin the fruit trees, then we mow the orchards, then we ready the Fun Park, then we layout the corn maze.

Each season comes and goes, maybe it’s similar in your annual sequence of events. When you’re in the moment it seems like such a crisis rush to get tasks done. I think we wear each other out by living on ‘crisis responses’.

As I’ve gotten older, and I know some of you have been visiting Maple Lawn Farms since before I was born(!), the ebb and flow of the seasons feels less like ‘continual crisis’ and more like a ‘comforting pattern’. I can see that each ‘season’ will come and go; each enjoying anticipation, hard work, and eventual completion.

At least it should be like that. Moving from ‘continual crisis’ to ‘comforting pattern’ is one of my personal goals for the next, oh, 35 years!

Have you ever looked at the patterns and annual crisis(s) in your life? Maybe there’s a pattern…

Talk to you next week,
Farmer Hugh