22 Mental Hacks for Agribusiness Leaders
Principles for becoming a more effective agribusiness professional
Over the past 2 years I have published a “professionals tips” based article for new University and College grads entering the agriculture industry.
One of the most commonly cited pieces of feedback I received around it was the fact that it shouldn’t be emphasized to just new grads, but all agribusiness professionals. Taking that into account I decided to adjust the focus of the 2022 version accordingly.
I won’t claim the principles to be novel for industry veterans, but I know for myself the 22 principles act as a constant reminder to help improve my output, relationship building, critical thinking, professional development and ability to be disciplined when I want to take the easy route.
With that in mind I have rewritten and added portions to the 2022 version, renaming it 22 Mental Hacks for Agribusiness Professionals.
These 22 mental reminders stem from what I've learned thus far in my career and are the aspects that have had a disproportionate impact on me and my short career.
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1. Ask Questions Don’t let the feeling of looking stupid keep you from asking questions. You don’t know everything. You never will. But you can try. In order to do this, you need to ask questions and listen to different perspectives of all experiences and backgrounds.
2. Learn Broadly and Be Curious (Always Be Capturing - ABC) Being an experienced professional doesn’t mean you can stop learning. In fact, I believe you have to work harder to learn the further you get into your career, at least that’s what I have found.
A quote that sticks out to me illustrating this comes from Alvin Toffler:
“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”
The world changes fast. Your learning habits have to too. Never stop learning.
3. Embrace Complexity Agriculture is at the intersection of numerous technological innovations. This leads to an increasingly “complex system” that is the agriculture industry.
Complex systems are unforgiving places for companies, and people who shy away from the challenge. Get excited about complexity, not scared. Overcoming complexity is where the asymmetric upside lies.
4. Create a Brand If you don’t have a brand, then you are a commodity. The ability to show employers, investors, talent or other colleagues what you value, what you enjoy and what you are good at is necessary. Social media, websites, podcasts, blogs, YouTube, newsletters are just a few of the tools available to do this today. I think this is as valid for senior leaders (eg: how can you differentiate to attract talent?) as it is incoming ag industry professionals.
5. Be Open Minded The world is changing faster than ever. Don’t shut down new ideas; ask “why not” and “what would need to be true for this to work?”
Reframing preconceived notions in an opportunistic way can help eliminate the logic of “the way things were” and get to “what could be”.
6. Develop Soft Skills Hard skills are important - if you work in Ag & don’t understand soil chemistry, animal physiology or grain markets it can be tough to be successful. But clear communication, story telling, critical thinking and leading teams (and more) will differentiate you. Work to build and implement soft skills daily.
7. Expand Your Time Horizons 3 years out seems like a long time, but it’s likely <10% of your working life. Think 10 or 15 years out instead when it comes to things like skill development, career moves or how a technology could impact you.
8. Resist Chauffeur Knowledge An incredible story (that I’ve shortened) that sits in the back of my mind is the one of theoretical physicist and Nobel laureate Max Planck.
After he won the Nobel Prize in physics, he went around Germany giving the same standard lecture on quantum mechanics.
Over time, his chauffeur memorized the lecture and asked “Would you mind, Professor Planck, because it’s so boring to stay in our routine. What if I gave the lecture in Munich and you just sat in front wearing my chauffeur’s hat?”
Planck said, “Why not?” The chauffeur got up and gave this long lecture on quantum mechanics without an issue.
The morale of the story is that there is a difference between knowing and understanding.
Anyone can regurgitate information. Understanding enables you to solve problems and identify opportunity that “knowing” simply can’t.
Seek to understand. Learn first principles, ask why five times or write / teach to help push yourself.
9. Build a Network Make connections. Introduce yourself to people you find interesting and tell them your ideas. Send messages on social media, request a coffee or a phone call. A wider network will continually work in your favour. There are significant benefits in the 1st order discomfort of this effort that are gained through 2nd order implications of a vast network.
Note: Show you have put time into the topic you want to discuss or learn about the individual you are reaching out to. It’ll go way further.
10. Identify Role Models Mentors are great, but not everyone has the luxury of finding someone to mentor them directly. Attempt to learn from many, even those you can’t meet physically and even those outside the agriculture industry. The internet allows you to find high quality people sharing high calibre insights regularly.
11. Become Great at Numerous Things Being in the top 1% of a specific area is hard. But being in the top 80% of 3 - 4 diff areas/skills is more achievable & differentiates you plus opens more doors. You’ll be known for a very specific skill combination & increase your career options and the value you bring to customers, employers and the industry. A CPA (accountant) that is also a CCA (Certified Crop Advisor) that has also developed a strong skillset in C++ or Python (coding) is uniquely positioned in the ag industry today.
12. Get Passionate It’s super cliche to say “find your passion”. I’d suggest instead to get passionate about what you are doing. If you are an agricultural marketing professional - become obsessed with everything that goes into it.
13. Have High Standards for Yourself and Others Expect a lot from people and yourself. High expectations make you and the industry better for tomorrow.
Mediocrity is a hand rail.
14. Be Comfortable in the Grey Area We get taught in black and white. The world is grey.
15. Build Up a Resource Base One of the most valuable skills is being resourceful; finding answers in uncommon places. You won’t be able to remember everything, but for those with a strong resource pool to pull from, the answer is always just a quick reference away.
16. People Matter Related to soft skills, but worth its own point. You’ll never get anything meaningful done on your own. Recognizing everyone knows something you don’t and understanding that how you make people feel is more important than them knowing exactly what you think goes a long way.
17. Outcome Over Ego The goal shouldn’t be to be right, but to achieve the best possible outcome. That might mean your ideas don’t get used. Accept it and learn from it.
18. Think in 2nd+ Order Implications Every action results in a consequence. But that consequence has a subsequent consequence. Those cause and effects should be considered beyond the initial consequence when making a decision.
Nothing happens in a vacuum.
19. Quantify & Visualize What You Can If you can quantify it, do so. That means you can measure it, can manage it and can improve it. Otherwise it’s abstract.
Additionally, people do better with images and pictures - if you can visualize it, do so.
20. Strong Opinions Loosely Held Having conviction in your beliefs is paramount, but you need to be continuously open to changing times and new information. Be confident, but be ready to adapt when new information arises.
21. Consistency Anyone can write one blog post, share their conference notes one time or offer to help once in a while. Identify things you know are valued by others and do them consistently, not only when it’s convenient. Be the person that takes notes at every meeting and circulates them to everyone afterwards, be the person that shares one interesting article with the implications to your colleagues every Monday morning, or be the person that listens to one podcast every morning before work.
22. Motivation is a myth. Discipline deliver results Doing hard things even though you don’t want to is one of the biggest contributors to better results. Don’t search for motivation, prioritize being disciplined.
I am always wanting to hear what has worked well for others. Please comment and share your personal principles and mental models that have helped you and your career.
Many could argue that there are other aspects that could be gone through and some will say this could be condensed down to 5 tips as many of these are related.
I find different related areas resonate uniquely depending on the circumstance. For example, numerous principles fall into a macro category of being curious and open minded, however, having “strong opinions, loosely held” in my opinion goes beyond being curious and is a reminder to ruthlessly believe in your logic until new information comes forth, whether through your own curiosity or other means.
I hope these mental principles can act as a framework of reference for professionals of all experience levels to improve the results in their career and business.
If you would like to read further on the topic of self improvement, check out these blog posts:
21 Tips for 2021 University Graduates
4 Essential Soft Skills For Success in the Ag Industry
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Agronomists
The 10% Rule for Professional Development
5 Tips for Purposeful Professional Progress
10 Findings in 10 Years in the Ag Industry
Cultivating a Better Understanding
Great list! I'd add: surround yourself with people that have more knowledge and experience than yourself, then ask questions, observe, and listen; invite candid feedback; seek diverse perspectives; take advantage of every opportunity to help others in their career journey.
Great thoughts, as usual.
" Bias to action" is another often used recommendation. While moving forward is important, your point 18 ""Think in 2nd+ Order Implications" is just as/more important. Everyone likes the person who gets the job done quickly. Thinking about problems down the road doesn't necessarily make you popular, but it does make you valuable.
Can't always say No (#5) , but those who truly understand the business under discussion sometimes see two moves ahead, and need to be free to bring those concerns forward without being considered a negative person, or as not a team player. Leaders need to encourage debate, teams have to be wiling to disagree in a productive way.