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4 ways to become a better problem solver

3.5 min read

It’s likely you have an aerial view photo of your farm hanging on the wall from years gone by. However, with the addition of a bin or building, the image is outdated and doesn’t match reality. Is it time for a new photo to show the full image of your farm? You know your operation intimately, yet a fresh perspective helps you see it in a new, more complete way.

Views shaped by tiny frame of reference

Many of us see our farm operation similarly: a split-second snapshot in time without considering what’s outside the frame. We solve problems and make decisions based simply on what we see. However, we all see the world through a particular set of lenses, which means we don’t necessarily see everything the same way. Opening our minds to new ideas and broadening our thinking can help bring a fresh viewpoint to the farm and change how we do business.

Know your blind spots

Running a farm with blind spots is risky and can seriously hamper our ability to solve problems and seize opportunities.

Opening our minds to new ideas and broadening our thinking can help bring a fresh viewpoint to the farm and change how we do business.

One farmer who owned a start-up horticultural business had expensive machinery and multiple greenhouses to raise seedlings. It also meant he was on the road six months of the year trying to make sales. Challenged by the idea that his blind spot was accumulating financial losses, he was forced to sit down and perform an economic analysis, despite his passion and joy for the project. He quickly realized the business was losing money or barely turning a profit, personal time with his family was sporadic due to travel, and his labour costs in the greenhouse and machinery were too costly to run long-term.

Solution? He sold the business and assets to focus on his grain farm. He had more time for family and fewer financial burdens after venturing into a new business he was unfamiliar with.

Simple solutions work

Sometimes the best-laid plans must be abandoned when unforeseen circumstances arise. But with broad and creative thinking, it may be possible to find simple yet effective solutions.

When a goat farmer decided to move to producing value-added ice cream, she planned for a large portion of her income would now come from in-person tastings in stores.

But the pandemic derailed this carefully crafted plan.

The farmer instead found a solution just outside the back door. She converted a building into an ice cream shop and began to offer agri-tours of her operation. Before long, scores of people were coming to the farm. The ice cream is still available in stores, but the pivot to bring people onto the farm proved a successful strategy for solving her problem.

How you can become a better problem solver

If you’ve been part of your farm operation for a long time, you know how routines can challenge your objectivity and prevent you from seeing a fresh point of view. Here are four ways to improve your perspective and become a better problem solver.

1. Ask others’ opinions. Get a wide range of views of your situation to see an issue from as many perspectives as possible, whether trusted advisors or employees. Increasingly, many farmers are joining peer support business groups, so they can hear struggles, challenges and wins from those in very similar situations.

2. Change it up. If you always do the same things in the same order at the same time every day, change it up! It can be as simple as driving a new route, holding meetings at different times, sitting in a different chair, or swapping daily tasks with someone else. Small changes often make a world of difference in how you see things.

3. Get physical! Whether walking, running, yoga or working out, physical activity offers a positive, controlled release of tension, emotion or energy. When you finish your exercise, your body—and brain—are more oxygenated and will allow you to think and act with greater clarity.

4. Transform your view. Re-arrange your office, work area or living space every quarter. Replace or move the pictures on the wall, move your furniture or give it a good clean. The goal is to provide a cognitive bump in the road, so that when you walk into your familiar setting, you see it in a new way that causes you to pause and look around with intention.

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