My View From The Country

Five Lessons Learned Looking Out A Windshield

The moments spent away from the ranch are some of the greatest opportunities for broadening one’s horizons.

We live in a hectic and hypercompetitive world. It’s the norm for people in livestock production to put in work weeks of 60+ hours. We all have “to do” lists that are ever-expanding and never-ending. So I’m sure you can identify with the all the preparations our family made to get away for a weekend last Friday.

Our plan was to leave by 4 p.m., but one minor catastrophe after another put us behind schedule. We found ourselves still loading horses into the trailer around midnight.

But the trip was a great time with the kids, and I do some of my best thinking while staring out a windshield. On the drive home, I got to thinking about all the things I’d learned over the weekend. It made me realize that the moments spent away from the ranch are some of the greatest opportunities for broadening one’s horizons. Here are a few of those lessons I gleaned from my trip:

Marketing is important. As an industry, we’ve made strides in moving away from a commodity mindset, but our marketing system is still based around the commodity mentality. I think most of us are dominated with a production mindset.

I learned this lesson listening to the kids on the drive home. They were talking about a particular horse trainer frequently highlighted on RFD-TV. He has videos, books, training paraphernalia and a popular philosophy – he’s a marketing machine and quite successful. When this horse trainer pulled into the show over the weekend with a couple of huge rigs, the kids were giddy with excitement over seeing him and his horses.

Unfortunately, the horses he showed weren’t very good; not only were they not competitive, but they weren’t even horses the kids would like to ride. I listened to the kids discuss this and they seemed mystified that this individual was able to build such an empire and reputation. They were disillusioned by the fact that there were many far better riders and trainers who are not nearly as successful.

But as the conversation evolved, they realized that what this individual had done was to set himself apart from the pack, to stand for something special. He’d created an entirely different market. He didn’t have to be the best in an ultracompetitive business with a lot of outstanding participants. He had created a niche and became a titan by having one-of-a-kind ideas. For the first time, my kids realized that the product is only a part of the marketing equation; and in reality, it’s a much smaller part of the marketing equation than we give it credit.

Marketing is very important. Not only must we set ourselves apart and stand for something special, but we must be able to tell the story. As the kids discussed the trainers who they considered better and yet less successful, it dawned on them that the difference was that the one individual had developed the ability to tell a compelling story. He’d developed the skills to inspire people to take action. If you can’t tell it, you can’t sell it.

Embrace the future. For our weekend trip, we utilized Mapquest on our iPhones. I receive probably 500 emails daily and read about half of them. I also probably receive and send more than 100 texts/day. Thus, I feel I’m pretty tech-savvy

The first couple of banners I saw displayed at the show had some coded thingamajig that I was supposed to scan with my smart phone to get more information. After the kids explained to me that my phone wouldn’t take me to the appropriate website until I downloaded the appropriate app, I began to realize that I’m not the technical whiz I thought I was.

I also was amazed that most of the business cards I was given during the show didn’t even list a website; they just referred me to a Facebook page where I could read their blogs, watch their videos and the like. When I got back to the motel and looked up my first Facebook page, I was impressed. But my kids weren’t.

My social-media savvy kids didn’t like the Facebook page because it was too much like a web page; it offered little interaction, and they felt the site didn’t give them a feel for the people involved. To them, social media is about moving away from the 30-second bites that characterize mass communication. It’s about increasing authentic conversation and demonstrating commitment and caring.

Social Media Tip: Social Media Can Be For You, Too

It’s then that I realized that those successfully using social media are creating “real” relationships. If we’re going to compete in the beef business, we have to connect with our customers. Technology will enable us to do that, especially with those under the age of 45 years. With today’s modern phones, information moves at real time.

If it isn’t scary, it probably isn’t going far enough. My youngest used to really struggle with his nerves in the show ring. That changed this summer, however, and he’s learned to deal with the pressure and turn in a good performance.

I assumed that confidence meant he was no longer nervous about competing. So when I asked him if it felt good to no longer be nervous in the ring, he gave me an incredulous look and said: “I’m always nervous, but that nervousness tells me I’m doing something I really love. It’s like before a football game; once it starts it’s about just enjoying it.”

For him, being nervous meant it was something important to him, so it was a good sign, and something to be embraced. He’s learned to embrace fear.

It got me thinking that I often feel two kinds of fear – the kind where I’m unprepared for something, which isn’t good; and the fear that comes with doing something that is meaningful to you. Perhaps we should all strive to live a life with more of that “right” kind of fear. Racing legend Mario Andretti said it best, “If things seem under control, you simply aren’t going fast enough.”

Innovation is a bad word. This has nothing to do with the weekend, but something I thought about while staring out the window. I often get the opportunity to speak on management issues, and I think one of the great challenges for most producers is the concept of how to be truly innovative. Our industry has been dominated by the mantras of best practices and incremental improvement. These aren’t bad things, but we must always strive to do what we are doing in a better way.

Part of the problem is that innovation so often is thought of as new products, new services, or new ways of doing the same things. If merely adapting best practices is our focus, by definition we will always be behind.

Strategic Planning: Is Your Ranch Ready For New Ideas?

Stephen Shapiro says, “When the pace of change outside your operation is faster than the pace of change within, you will be out of business.” We can all recognize that as inherently true, but it’s even more valid in a commodity business. Thankfully, the rate of change in a commodity business is historically slow. In a commodity business, change tends to come in waves – tsunami-type waves for those who aren’t prepared.

The key to innovation is learning to ask the right questions, in the right way, and of the right people. And getting away from the daily grind is often the only way to find time to think about those types of questions.

Discuss this Blog Entry 2

on Oct 5, 2012

Very enlightening insight into social media use. I imagine many of us with a few years are way more hesitant to use social media, gave me lots to consider.

Chuck Huseman (not verified)
on Oct 8, 2012

Troy - Keep your mind on the road! (Fortunately for us you let it wander a bit. Great post.)

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What's My View From The Country?

As a fulltime rancher, opinion contribur Troy Marshall brings a unique perspective on how consumer and political trends affect livestock production.

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Troy Marshall

Troy Marshall is a multi-generational rancher who grew up in Wheatland, WY, and obtained an Equine Science/Animal Science degree from Colorado State University where he competed on both the livestock...

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