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Grit vs. quit: Two concepts you should consider in farming

The challenge is finding wise balance of when each makes sense.

Davon Cook, Family business consultant

April 27, 2023

3 Min Read
Farmer looking into the sunset
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I’ve been talking lately about the concepts of two popular books. In the beginning of another busy farming season, I invite you to reflect on both concepts, somewhat at odds with each other.

Grit, by Angela Duckworth, published in 2016, recognized that raw talent is not the only predictor of success. It defined grit as the spot that passion and perseverance overlap. And that grit could be a stronger predictor of high achievement than intelligence or talent.

While those are helpful, you must put in effort to develop talents into achievement. And you’re more likely to put in sustained effort when you’re passionate. The book includes empirical research of grit leading to achievement.

Highly valued

Grit is highly valued in agriculture. We grit our teeth (pun intended) in tough years and keep going. We survive the grit of blowing dirt and devastating drought. We reward those who work long, physically grueling hours in busy seasons. We value mental and physical toughness.

But when does that idolization of grit turn into a liability? Any strength gone too far becomes a weakness.

A more recent 2022 book, Quit, by Annie Duke, applied the lessons learned as a professional poker player to real life. When do we become too attached to an investment—of time, relationship, or finances—that it clouds our judgment of when to walk away? How do sunk costs impact our perception of what we’re losing versus what opportunity emerges by moving on?

For example, you bought a stock at $50. It’s now at $30. We often think, “I lost $20. I must hang on.” What if you shift your mindset to, “What can I do with that $30?”

I see this play out in family businesses mired in conflict but unwilling to make the tough choice that the current partnership structure is no longer a fit. What could you accomplish with the remaining assets if unencumbered by inertia to move forward?

One interesting tidbit is that professional players of Texas Hold ‘Em choose to ante up with the first two cards only 15-25% of the time. Amateurs will play over 50% of the first deal. By playing a mediocre hand, even with a small initial ante, you create a sunk cost and resistance to folding when it makes sense later.

There are multiple other concepts in the book around why it’s difficult to walk away, even when we should. At the farm, are there enterprises that haven’t been profitable for years, but you have a lot invested in? Has taking on more acres proven to be at too high of a cost in terms of workforce or personal stress? Are there employer/employee relationships that just are not working, but it feels like failure to give up on?

Unlike “grit,” “quit” is not a word we have historically valued. Clearly, the challenge is finding the wise balance of when each makes sense. Good luck!

Davon Cook is a family business consultant at Pinion. Reach Davon at [email protected]. The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of Farm Futures or Farm Progress. 

About the Author(s)

Davon Cook

Family business consultant, Pinion

Davon Cook is a family business consultant at Pinion (formerly K Coe Isom). She helps families work well together in the business and navigate transitions in leadership and ownership. She works with farmers and ranchers all day every day and is passionate about production ag. Davon has been specializing in this area since 2012, partnering with Lance Woodbury at Ag Progress and K Coe Isom. She facilitates peer groups covering a range of strategic and technical topics, so she understands the issues producers are managing every day. Her perspective is shaped by spending ten years working in her own family’s cotton business near Lubbock, Texas, and a career spanning the ag value chain from McKinsey to ConAgra to consulting with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation throughout Africa. She welcomes comments, questions, and conversation!

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