Farm Progress

Books to warm your management and business skills this winter.

Ben Potter, Senior editor

November 28, 2018

3 Min Read

With a handful of loose change donated to your local library to pay some minor overdue fines, farmers can make one of the least expensive and most helpful investments of the year by brushing up on some good business and management books. (And those who aren’t avid readers can still check out audiobooks.)

The biggest challenge may be knowing where to start, but these tried-and-tested tomes can help get the ball rolling. Click the links to see where you can buy.

Danny Klinefelter, Extension economist with Texas A&M University, doesn’t hesitate to recommend Good to Great by Jim Collins. Often appearing on “best of” lists, this book details how 11 businesses converted long-term mediocrity (or worse) into long-term superiority.

“Mergers, technology and management initiative were obviously significant, but the three most important factors were found to be disciplined action, disciplined people and disciplined thought,” Klinefelter notes.

Great companies tend to stay in tune with where the market is going and adapt as changes occur. Be wary of managing the same way for too long, but don’t jump on every new idea without carefully analyzing it first. Great farmers can strike a balance between those two extremes.

“Great companies also get the right people on the bus, in the right seats, and they get the wrong people off the bus,” he says.

Tim Schaefer, founder of Minnesota-based Encore Consultants, says he’s found a lot of highly useful information in That’s Outside My Boat, by Charlie Jones and Kim Doren. The title comes from Olympic rowers who must stay focused to achieve their goals.

“They win when they control what they can and don’t think about what they can’t,” Schaefer says. “This book talks about not focusing on the past because you can’t change it. But you can change the future, and that’s where your focus must be.”

Business leaders from Nike, General Electric and other top companies have applied this philosophy to their own experience, with great success.

David Widmar, co-founder of Agricultural Economic Insights, calls Thinking in Betsby Annie Duke a must-read for farmers and ranchers. Anyone who has watched or played poker will realize that sometimes even a great hand can lose amid an unlikely set of circumstances.

Other sports further fuel this analogy. Consider the infamous final call of Super Bowl XLIX, where Seahawks coach Pete Carroll dialed in a pass instead of a run. It was almost universally derided when the pass fell incomplete. But was the decision really that terrible?

Duke, who plays poker professionally, shares her own experiences from the table and takes a closer look at other “bad bets” like Super Bowl XLIX to help readers understand how to better make decisions in times of uncertainty.

“The first lesson is separating the outcome from the quality of the decision made,” she notes. “You can make a great decision but experience bad outcomes.”

On the other hand, bad decisions sometimes also have favorable outcomes. Says Widmar: “That is the scenario decision-makers need to be especially mindful of.”

Need more ideas? Klinefelter offers up these additional recommendations:

■      The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey

■      The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber

■      The Effective Executive by Peter Ducker

■      Open Book Management by Jack Stack

■      First, Break All the Rules by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman

■      Start With Why by Simon Sinek


About the Author(s)

Ben Potter

Senior editor, Farm Futures

Senior Editor Ben Potter brings two decades of professional agricultural communications and journalism experience to Farm Futures. He began working in the industry in the highly specific world of southern row crop production. Since that time, he has expanded his knowledge to cover a broad range of topics relevant to agriculture, including agronomy, machinery, technology, business, marketing, politics and weather. He has won several writing awards from the American Agricultural Editors Association, most recently on two features about drones and farmers who operate distilleries as a side business. Ben is a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism.

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