Robert Morris is the number one reviewer of business books for Amazon.com. A few weeks ago he posted a great review of Hunting in a Farmer’s World, and asked if he could interview me.
Bob’s questions were really fun, and the interview went rather long. To my surprise, he is publishing the entire thing in two parts. Here is the second half.
Morris: When and why did you decide to write Hunting in a Farmer’s World?
Dini: I started out writing a book about the culture in a small company. The original analogy was going to be a Tribe. As I thought through the stories I wanted to tell, I realized that I wasn’t thinking about culture. I was really thinking about the character of the people who create cultures; the founders and owners of small businesses. It really doesn’t matter how many employees they have, their thinking is always dominated by a sense of personal responsibility for all stakeholders, and the knowledge that, regardless of the resources that are (or more often aren’t) available, failure is not an option. They work without a net. If they screw up, it isn’t merely a missed budget or a couple of points off the stock price. Their failure means that their families and their customers as well as employees and their families are all going to suffer.
Morris: Were there any head-snapping revelations while writing it? Please explain.
Dini: I had read Thom Hartmann’s book on ADD in the 90s, Attention Deficit Disorder: A Different Perception, and thought then that his description of hunters applied very well to the entrepreneurs I work with. I came across it again when cleaning up my bookshelves at home, and realized that what I was discussing in the book was really the thinking process of entrepreneurs. To go back to Simon Sinek’s work again, I suddenly understood that I wasn’t writing about how entrepreneurs behave, I was writing about why they behave that way. Once I locked in on the hunting analogy, the rest came pretty quickly.
Morris: To what extent (if any) does the book in final form differ significantly from what you originally envisioned?
Dini: I could have prattled on and on with great stories about terrific people. I realized that I would wind up with a book that would leave many entrepreneurs saying “Great. So now I understand why I hate farming, but why didn’t he tell me what to do about it?” I went back and rewrote the middle section about the things I’ve seen owners do that allowed them to run good businesses without getting bogged down in farming tasks.
Morris: What are the most significant differences between hunters and farmers?
Dini: Hunters hunt. They can’t help it, and it isn’t always the best thing for them or their companies. I talk a bit in the book about how dangerous they can be to an organization when bored or underutilized. They tend to approach the world from a perspective of what they want it to be, while farmers deal with what is. Make no mistake, hunters kept humanity alive for thousands of years, but farmers allowed us to settle in one place and build civilizations. One of the things I hope comes out of the book is that they are complementary talents. If people accept each other’s tendencies, they can form tremendously effective teams.
Morris: To what extent do the Welch comments (quoted in Part 1) express what you call “the hunter’s mindset”? Please explain.
Dini: I think that corporate executives have the Hunter’s Mindset as much as any entrepreneur. If you read them again, Welch’s comments aren’t about differences in perspective as much as they are about size and scale. He is right, smaller businesses have short lines of communication, direct influence by the CEO, and the resulting ability to be nimble. That’s because they are small. I think his is as much a logistical observation as a cultural one.
Morris: To what extent is that mindset relevant to the challenges that a “farmer” faces? Please explain.
Dini: Hunters tend to think that everyone should hunt. We developed a fun quiz, “Are you a Hunter or a Farmer?” for the book’s website. [Please click here.] When we tested it, people tended to be unhappy about getting a Farmer result. We rewrote it several times to make it as objective, as neutral as we could. There isn’t anything wrong with being a farmer, but we are all biased towards that Great Man view of the solitary hunter. We are inundated with media that puts hunters on a pedestal (Bruce Willis, Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford), and frankly, so does my book. It is human nature to think that if something is good, anything else is less good. Farmers don’t get enough credit for “only” making things work.
Morris: A number of films portray the sometimes violent confrontations between farmer and ranchers, and Shane is among the best of them. In your opinion, how relevant is that film to the material in your book?
Dini: Wow! You picked another of my favorites. Jack Schaefer’s book was the first I ever bought for myself. (It was 35 cents in paperback.) The whole concept of an eminently capable hero who chooses not to use his skills unless he has to taught me that being impressive or showing leadership can be as much about what you don’t do as what you do. The ranchers were only trying to protect their ability to raise cattle. I never saw the objective as evil, but rather their greed, the zero sum game of “I can only be happy if I have it all and you have nothing.”
By the way, Alan Ladd was way too short, too blonde and too buckskinned to be the Shane that I read about. Did you know that they had to dig trenches for Jean Arthur to walk in so she didn’t tower over Ladd? Now I can’t watch the movie without noticing that every scene that they have together is shot from the waist up.
Morris: For millennia, hunters searched for food to survive. Who are today’s hunters and what is it that they seek?
Dini: I think a hunter today is anyone who shoulders the personal responsibility of providing for others, especially those who do it without a net. Most folks begin an action with the thought of a fallback objective if it fails. Hunters don’t have much of a plan B. That doesn’t mean they succeed every time, but they only see setbacks, outcomes that temporarily delay reaching the goal. The plan changes, but the objective doesn’t.
Morris: In terms of their respective functions, it seems to me that in today’s business world, many (if not most) organizations need both hunters and farmers and there seems to be many more farmers than hunters. Your emphasis on the hunter’s mindset suggests that how people think, the way they see the world and their place in it — rather than what they [begin italics] do [end italics] — determines whether they are a hunter or a farmer. Is that a fair assessment? Please explain.
Dini: Absolutely. I think hunters really are born that way. Even when I was an employee, I always felt that my personal skills were being sold on the employment market. When I am interviewing entrepreneurs, many tell stories about their childhood enterprises. They performed a chore for a neighbor, and immediately connected the dots about how many other neighbors would pay to have that chore done. It isn’t surprising that many entrepreneurs went into business for themselves because they saw an opportunity that their former employer was missing.
Morris: Also, is it a fair assessment to suggest that hunters tend to challenge the status quo and farmers tend to defend it? Please explain.
Dini: I’m not so sure about that. It is more complicated. Hunters challenge things that get in their way. The Hollywood Hero stereotype is “You can take my badge and gun, but I won’t stop working the case.” That may not be a good idea, but hunters tend to put their own goals first. Farmers clearly have the ability to change systems, but they do it incrementally. Hunters are more likely to blow it up.
Morris: I just read Michael Malone’s new book, The Intel Trinity. He focuses much of his attention on three men: Robert Noyce, Gordon Moore, and Andrew Grove. Together, they built what became “the most important company in the world” for almost four decades. There are times when, in my opinion, each of the three demonstrates the hunter’s mindset, other times the farmer’s mindset. They engage whichever is more appropriate to the given situation. In today’s business world, I think CEOs need to master both mindsets. What do you think?
Dini: I like Daniel Goleman’s work on situational leadership styles. Few really successful people, particularly those who are consistently successful over a long time, do it with one approach to every problem. There are times when a good commander says “Let’s take this hill!” and other times when he says “Let’s hunker down and figure out what is going on here.” Effective partnerships are most often between two players who have differing perspectives. With three, the dynamic is much more complex. If the partners don’t shift their mindsets for different situations, they can fall into a pattern of constant disagreement.
Joshua Wolf Shenk wrote a great article in The Atlantic about Lennon and McCartney. John was a hunter, and Paul much more of a farmer. Their greatness grew from their ability to switch roles when necessary. They pulled the best out of the relationship by supporting each other’s natural tendencies, but also by stepping into the other partner’s shoes when the situation demanded it.
Morris: In my review of your book for various Amazon websites, I point out that several books published in recent years examine the complicated relationships between leaders and followers. The U.S. Marine Corps offers an excellent case in point. It has, heaven knows, a crystal clear chain of command but a general will defer to the expertise of a private when an important decision must be made if the private has better information, sharper skills, etc. to answer a question or solve a problem. Hard-charging entrepreneurs such as Steve Jobs may chew up people like a rolling ball of butcher knives but will defer to better-informed and better-qualified managers in a comparable situation.
Your own thoughts about all this?
Dini: Jobs was brilliant, but as you’ve probably guessed by now leaders who don’t value their people aren’t my favorites. Apple’s products are innovative, but I don’t use them because I dislike the arrogance of their closed universe, and the level of control they demand over it. That clearly reflects Jobs’ attitude. A general may accept a private’s knowledge in a given situation, but he doesn’t bring privates into every strategy meeting. In the absence of a true genius (and Jobs was one) who can see farther than everyone else, most organizations have to rely on the brainpower of a group of people who are informed, experienced, and buy into the same vision. Within practical limits, the bigger that group is, the better the decisions will be.
Morris: I agree while pointing out that Jobs valued those who were insanely talented. I never thought he was a great leader and still don’t. Great leaders inspire ordinary people to achieve extraordinary results.
Of all the great entrepreneurs throughout history, with which one would you most want to share an evening of conversation if it were possible? Why?
Dini: I have always had a favorite – Benjamin Franklin. I think his scientific vision was broad enough to understand the amazing world that electricity has brought us, and his business sense would love all its applications. Other than that, he was a master diplomat and a great negotiator, a raconteur and lover of fine food and drink, so we could anticipate a most entertaining evening!
Morris: Walter Isaacson refers to Franklin as “America’s first yuppie.” If you were asked to speak at an elementary school graduation ceremony and explain why innovative thinking is important to personal growth as well as one’s career (no matter what it turns out to be), that would be your key points?
Dini: This may be your most difficult question. Elementary-age kids are innovators by necessity. Everything is new to them, so they make up the solutions. Their lives are one big journey of discovery. I don’t know that I would address innovation by name. It’s an abstract concept, and most adults struggle with it. I’d tell them to never stop asking “Why?” and “How?” about everything. If they practice asking the questions long enough to get them ingrained, some of them will grow up to ask “What if…?”
Morris: Let’s say that a CEO has read and then (hopefully) re-read Hunting in a Farmer’s World and is now determined to establish or strengthen a workplace culture within which an entrepreneurial spirit is most likely to thrive. Where to begin?
Dini: It starts with accountability, not just for the CEO, but for everyone who wants to have a say. In large organizations, you can succeed for a long time just because you are on the right teams, or are in a hot division. Those people tend to fall out of the race when they have to put their own fingerprint on decisions. Whether you are leading hunters or farmers (probably both), your culture starts with how much people take responsibility (and credit) for their own actions. The CEO, in turn, needs to accept setbacks as part of the developmental process. The best entrepreneurial cultures are those where people aren’t afraid to make mistakes.
Morris: For more than 25 years, it has been my great pleasure as well as privilege to work closely with the owner/CEOs of hundreds of small companies, those with $20-million or less in annual sales. In your opinion, of all the material you provide in Hunting in a Farmer’s World, which do you think will be of greatest value to leaders in small companies? Please explain.
Dini: Develop a second in command whom you trust implicitly, and who is good at the things you don’t like to do. Too many small business owners are attracted to a “mini-me” because they are lonely, and having a like mind around is comforting. They don’t understand that a balancing influence, in most cases a farmer, frees them to be even more effective.
Morris: Which question had you hoped to be asked during this interview – but weren’t – and what is your response to it?
Dini: How’s this?
Q: “How does it feel to be on the New York Times bestseller list?”
A: “I don’t know, but I’d sure like to find out!”
In business, everyone is either a Hunter or a Farmer. Which one are you? Take the quiz. www.hiafw.com