I’m often asked “what makes a small scale hop grower successful?” Passion? Vision? Love of craft beer? While those attributes can help I’ve found that they generally get in the way and cause delusions that end up driving your enthusiasm into the ground deeper than your trellis poles. But I think these habits are also important for any small business, especially agriculture-based enterprises.
So To help answer some of these questions I built this list that encompasses the habits of very productive and quality-focused growers (at lease in our group). And obviously as all good dictators proclaim, I reserve the right to change, alter, omit or expand at my pleasure (It’s good to be the king…in my on mind).
#1. Be Realistic/Set Realistic Goals
Sounds easy, eh? Nope…not even remotely easy. Why? Because this habit takes the most work, risk tolerance, and brutal honesty not only from you but from those you trust. In my experience people become enamored with the idea of farming because:
- They are fed up with their current job
- They are bored with their current hobbies
- They are willfully ignoring the fact that they have no idea about what farming entails never mind hop growing
- They are massive beer geeks
Every farming (and most other small businesses I’ve encountered) will fail when operations begin without a firm basis in reality. Points 1-4 above can be factors that help guide due diligence but they should not be the defining factors. So what are defining factors? How about:
- Making decisions based on MATH! Due diligence up front will save you heartache and money pain later. You know if your decisions are based on 1-2 above if you get bored with the due diligence and move onto something else. That’s a good thing! Take up lure painting or rock gardening.
- Demonstrate you are making serious attempts at become a bigger expert on the topic than anyone else with whom you are close.
- Admit what you don’t know. This sounds easy too but I see several growers in the hop arena today that will not admit this point and they’d rather throw good money (and time) after bad than admit they were either wrong (ooh…another good point. Maybe #4?) or they didn’t know to begin with.
- Set a timeline and milestones AFTER you’ve convinced yourself and others you’ve done your homework. I’m not talking about 5 years down the road here but more like quarterly goals that lead to a go/no-go decision within 12 months.
#2. Educate Yourself
“Hey! Didn’t you cover that already?” Not nearly enough. Think about this stage as your *bullshit* detector and you need to program it. But remember that you also need to decide what makes sense and what doesn’t when programming.
- An easy decision making tool is your gut. I can’t count the number of times I’ve made decisions against my internal instinct and every time I’ve been burned. Guess what? I listen to my gut now.
- Ask “why” all the time. Don’t be an obnoxious idiot but DO demand clear answers from your sources. If they don’t know or are unsure they should say as much but like I said earlier many people cannot admit they don’t know.
- Ask for data. Some people (including myself) do not share all of their data because we’ve worked very hard to gather and prove or disprove our hypotheses. But in most cases we will share some of the basic facts to help guide you to the next step. Something I like to remember is “A statement made without supporting data is an opinion” and I use this every day.
- DO NOT copy someone else without understanding why. Not easy and I see so many people stumbling because they blindly copy other systems and don’t know how to cope when things go badly.
This should get you a good base-level of BS programming and I think you’ll be surprised when that sucker is screaming 10 times a day.
#3. Grow A Thick Hide
Expect people around you to tell you that:
- You “can’t” do it
- You will fail
- It is too risky
I typically respond to all 3 by saying, “Oh, I didn’t know you were a subject matter expert. Maybe you can help me figure out exactly why: 1)I can’t do it, 2) I will fail and 3) It’s too risky. People like to project their own perceptions onto others and typically they are fearful of the risk or perceived risk of trying something new. Another snippet I am sorta well-know for saying, “Let the data decide.” You cannot know if the endeavor is too risky for your hide thickness unless you do the math, period. Come to your own conclusions.
#4. Say “I Don’t Know” At Least Once A Day
Remember #1 habit? Make it a mantra. But it doesn’t stop there. Commit to finding the answer or at least creating a hypothesis. And then test it!!! Why do we expect someone else to have the answers? It is just possible that you are asking questions people have not though of yet. It happens every day and do not assume some “expert” will have it either. We’ll cover dealing with experts and how to spot a real one a bit later.
Wow…I feel like I just went on a screaming rampage. Phew! Once I recover I’ll post the next Habits focusing on execution and dealing with adversity. Stay tuned, citizens!