The Keys to Forging Farm Success

Part four: Take action and learn

Successful farming operations are those whose leaders are not afraid to take action. It's not action merely for the sake of action. It is action that comes after a solid plan is established. 

Sometimes we have a fear of action. In that case, here's what the process looks like:  Plan, plan, plan, plan, plan, plan, plan, plan…..  Fortunately in agriculture the weather doesn't wait so we're forced to action eventually.

Behavioral economists say we, as humans, rarely ever learn from failure. You hear all the time that failure is the best teacher and you must learn from your mistakes. The fact of the matter is that our brains hardly ever let us do that. We take action, fail and then ignore it because we don't want to dive into the pain of analyzing our failure. The key to this is understanding who we are. Self-awareness is so important. 

Research with high school students determined that students had the ability to predict the outcome of their friends' relationships by multiples compared to their ability to predict the outcome of their own relationships. Don't we know ourselves better than we know others? The answer is yes, but we're more objective with other people. We can see more clearly. So we have to bring some outsiders in to rattle our cage and give us a new perspective. 

When it comes to mistakes, one of the things that we have to control is our response. Think about the time you made a mistake on the farm as a kid. I buried a tractor in the mud. Even though it was a long time ago, I can remember it very clearly, probably because of the response that came from my dad and my older brother. Dad's response was not "Well, what can we learn from this?" How many of our fathers had that response? Not many! But when things go wrong, or not exactly as planned, the only true failure is when we don't take the time to learn. 

Commonly what happens is that mistakes are not brought up. There are families who have categories of topics that are off limits. A much better choice would be to discuss these situations openly in order to develop a culture of learning. John Wooden, the coach of the amazingly successful UCLA team in the 60s and 70s was a great leader. One of his insightful sayings was –"the team with the most mistakes wins."

There are two kinds of mistakes, according to Wooden: mistakes of commission and mistakes of omission. The mistakes of omission are the mistakes of being paralyzed, of doing nothing. With mistakes of commission the philosophy is, "let's make the mistake early, let's learn from it and let's get better." But sometimes we're so engrained in our training to avoid mistakes at all costs that it leads us to take no action. That's a mistake of omission. It's hard for people to see us make mistakes when we haven't done anything. Or better said…"Don't just do something, stand there!"

What can we do? We can think about our response, both to ourselves and the people around us – and that will affect our work culture. Make yours a culture of learning.

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