• Shane Thomas

Intelligent Evolution, Not Revolution: 4 Ways to Stay Ahead of the Curve

As farmers and industry professionals we want to constantly improve and not be behind on the times. It’s 2019 and the velocity at which new technology is coming out is mind boggling! Every day there is a new article talking about disruption or a tweet proclaiming that you will be doing everything entirely different next year or you’ll get left behind. Now, of course change is happening! They say that only two things in life that are certain are death and taxes, but I think we can all agree that change is another. But is it really happening THAT fast?

It’s easy to create fear around how lack of a new product, practice or system will be detrimental to your bottom line, but more difficult to show the short term and long term value. I’ll be the first to say, as will many that know me, I can get caught up in the new trends anticipating rapid changes and mega impacts. But the reality is that as much as technology and new trends are happening quickly, there is still an ability to ground yourself in understanding the trends and technology and ensuring you mold them to best fit within your business.

This is where we get into revolution vs. evolution.

A revolution is defined as:

“ a dramatic and wide-reaching change in the way something works or is organized or in people's ideas about it”

While evolution is defined as:

“the gradual development of something, especially from a simple to a more complex form”

It can seem like revolutionary change is all over the place, but the truth is that much of what seems revolutionary is really incremental evolution of a product, system or model over a period of time. For example, Netflix was founded in 1997, but Blockbuster didn’t cease operations until 2011 AND they had the ability buy Netflix numerous times around 2000. Don’t get me wrong - this is still fast, BUT Blockbuster had the chance to adapt their model, and anticipate future trends and needs of the consumer along with the ability to try new things vs. sticking with their historical approach. This example illustrates that massive change doesn’t necessarily happen overnight, but over a period of time. In order to stay ahead we need to deploy what I call intelligent evolution. (Note: Granted Netflix’s core business did change more rapidly in the mid-2000’s).

Evolution at it’s very basic is random changes that are not necessarily targeted. Intelligent evolution is done through strategic selection of new technology or tools to deploy and develop within your operation to progress forward. Tools that add value to you through increased yields, margins and efficiencies.

Successful farms and businesses will continue to be successful because of their affinity for intelligent evolution, not targeting a revolution of their operation.

So what does it take to intelligently evolve your operation?

1. Mindset that embraces change and learning – Trying a new product or program with the mindset that it won’t work from the start defeats the purpose of trying it. An open mind that is welcoming of change will obtain the best possible outcomes and stay ahead of the curve. There is a concept that was made popular by made popular by Royal Dutch Shell executive Arie de Gues and MIT’s Peter Senge that says “the ability to learn faster than competitors may be the only sustainable competitive advantage”. In the times we live in where relevance of expertise is shifting, this is truly one approach that should be taken seriously.

2. Second Order Thinking – We often think in terms of first order consequences or what is going to happen immediately with one change or tweak, but the real implications are when you take that one to two steps further. If you were to try a new agronomy software platform on your farm it’s typical to consider the initial pain in trying to get up to speed and may even be easy to think about how it could streamline the communication between you and your agronomist, but what comes after that? How does that increased ease of communication free up time for you to do other things with your time? Or how does that systems evolution fit with future consumer trends or demands? Or how does it solve other problems that you haven’t even ran into yet such as purchasing crop input products in advance with a more efficient way of ordering and obtaining products? One can take this many levels up as well.

3. Integrative Approach – Evolution doesn’t happen in a silo. Every aspect of an operation and business is impacted when one component shifts. When considering testing new products, or systems, think about how they impact other aspects of your operation and allow you to manage them or approach them from a different perspective. For example, when trying a new product like a plant growth regulator in cereals it should be came at with a systems approach that allows you to adjust nitrogen/fertilizer rates, seeding rates etc. to get the most out of that product. (For more on this check out my post here: )

4. Build a network – Having a group of individuals to talk with and bounce ideas around with that all diverse backgrounds, core competencies and opinions is a great way to understand how to evolve and what to be trying to edge your operation in a positive direction. Even without starting with a strong network, it can be built up. Building your network can be done through social media, scavenging industry publications for experts, meeting people at industry events or even starting your own local group. Here is a great article in the Western Producer by Katelyn Duncan to learn more on the value of networking:

Change and disruption are happening. There is no doubt if you aren’t adapting, you’re getting left behind. But you can evolve intelligently; by understanding what’s happening externally plus how it fits within your operation, reflecting on it and utilizing the 4 components – open mindset, second order thinking, integrative approaches/systems thinking and leveraging your network. This is going to help your operation thrive and succeed in the short term, medium and the long term.

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