In the comments section of our recent post on 5,000 cows a reader (Eumaeus) drew a response out of me that really should have been part of that post. 5,000 cows sounds like a huge number of animals but it’s just a drop in the bucket compared to the annual beef consumption of our local metropolitan area. You can do the math to estimate how many drops are needed to fill the bucket but I don’t feel like doing story problems today.
But that makes me want to explore an idea. An idea about ideas. Here’s the idea: you don’t need a great idea. You need a great amount of work.
The goal is to produce something. An idea is not a something. It’s an idea. Let’s face it, most ideas are no good. (I particularly like the patent for a device to help deliver babies by centrifugal force. Notice the baby-catching basked between the expectant mother’s legs. Where is the barf bag?)
I hate to quote myself quoting someone else but I’m feeling lazy today. So here I am talking about what someone else was talking about. (This very action kind of proves the point of this post anyway).
Bonner talks about the need to follow a well-worn path in business…doing something that others have already succeeded at. We read and follow the examples of leaders in alternative ag. He talks about how important it is that I not try to go it alone, that I work hard and take one bite at a time until I “find something that works before you run out of time, money and confidence” (p. 126).
There are many other works available on this same topic (Edison said genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration) and yet, here I am adding to the pile. In fact, I doubt if I have written anything on my blog that hasn’t been written elsewhere and said better. But here I am. Writing similar thoughts about old ideas with my own personal style and here you are reading it. Not that I’m terribly clever or novel. Just that I’m willing and able.
So if success is found in work, not in ideas, does it matter what you work on? Only a little. That’s good news! That means you can do what others have already done successfully. Are there already cleaning services in the world? Yes. Is that an old idea? Yes. Is there still demand for cleaning services? Yes? Good. Go find some houses to clean.
It’s the intersection of quality and price that matters in that market, not the web site you build. Not the clever name you come up with. It matters that you are able to meet a need. Results matter…especially when you are trailing far behind the pioneers (many of whom had great ideas and never found success).
Look, I know all about the path less traveled. It sounds nice. But it can be a lonely, dangerous place. Farmers are not gamblers…at least, not successful, multi-generational farmers. I’m looking to provide something of value to positively impact the world with minimal risk. Others have raised and retailed cattle before me. I stand on the shoulders of giants. I don’t have a precise formula for success but enough ground has been mapped that I’m not lost in the wilderness. Before Frost could take the path less traveled he had to learn to walk. And don’t overlook the fact that Frost is walking on a path, not cutting a new path!
So now, rather than hope some crazy idea will work I can just grab on to something that we know has worked and work for effective execution. Instead of wondering if a project will work I can focus on making it work. It’s the difference between trying to make a bicycle out of rubber, steel and aluminum and deciding to make a bicycle out of bicycle parts. You dig? I’m much more likely to succeed if I take advantage of work already done by others.
There are still new frontiers to explore in alternative agriculture. No doubt. But there are already well-worn (even if lightly grassy) paths that will help you meet immediate needs. People like maple syrup. People like to cook with farm-fresh eggs. Land still benefits from the application or composted manures. Nothing earth shattering in that. Then, once you establish a beachhead, you can begin to dabble with the unknown. Or encourage the next generation (those bullet-proof, immortal youngsters) to take a calculated risk. But somebody has to pay the dues. And that falls to you. That falls to me.
Like any other business, successful farming has little to do with dreaming up some unique new idea you can call your own. It has everything to do with putting in the work every stinking day even when you don’t feel like it. Not paying yourself for years as you build the business. Going to bed late, getting up early. Showing up late for dinner so you can get that one project behind you. Keeping your day job while your business gets established. Using vacation time to work for yourself! It’s easy to find things to do with your time. It’s the execution that will kill you.
Don’t worry about the idea. Worry about the work.