Hunters and Farmers

Several times monthly, I interview entrepreneurs who are considering membership in The Alternative Board® as a means to improve their business. Part of the process is asking each one what his or her core skills are – the things that made them successful.

Many, and perhaps a majority, start the answer by lowering their voice a bit. “Well first of all,” they say, “you have to understand that I think I’m a little bit ADD.”

No kidding? You started a company because the job you had wasn’t moving fast enough for you. You wanted to have greater say over your environment. You kept looking at other areas that weren’t under your control, and decided to put yourself into a situation where you could control everything. (OK; we’ve all found out that isn’t true.)

You began your business playing all the positions. You were the utility outfielder, plus pitching and then running faster than the ball so you could be the catcher too. You spent, and probably still spend your day caroming from finance to sales to operations, and you think you might be ADD? It’s time to stop acting like we’re handicapped, and start recognizing that some “conditions” have a purpose, and are part of our advantage in owning a business.

A decade ago I found a book called “Attention Deficit Disorder- a Different Perception” by Thom Hartmann. It has been a huge help to me in understanding not only my own behavior, but that of my two ADD-diagnosed sons.

Hartmann’s premise is that ADD isn’t, as it is so often described, a disconnect in your brain’s wiring. It is a group survival trait in the human race, but one that has become less important to the tribe as time passes.

The ADD folks are the hunters. In tribal times, they were the ones who brought in the food. They can focus on a single task, adapt on the fly, sacrifice themselves by going for long periods without rest to accomplish the objective, and ignore obstacles in their way. Without the hunters, the tribe starved.

Eventually the human race learned agriculture. The ability to eat shifted from hyperactive focus on finding food to extended, steady attention to tilling, planting, reaping, and tilling again. In fact, until the 18th century most common people had no way to track the years. Their calendar was merely focused on the seasons of the growing cycle.

But evolution doesn’t move that fast. The hunters didn’t turn into farmers. Doing the same thing year after year is stifling to them, regardless of the necessity of it. There was less room for the hunters in the tribal organization; so they became entrepreneurs.

In the last 15 years hunter behavior has been stigmatized by the farmers. “Good” students sit quietly at their desks. Children shouldn’t run in the house. No yelling. No rough housing. Memorize your lessons. Manage what you measure. Develop systems. Pay attention. Be ISO 9000-, Total Quality Management-, Balanced Scorecard-consistent, every day, every month, every year.

Booooring.

Managing isn’t nearly as much fun as creating. When I ask business owners what they would do if their company was running perfectly, most answer “Something new.” It’s not that they don’t want a perfect business. It’s that they don’t see any fun in running a perfect business. That’s farmer work.

This is a call to entrepreneurs to stop feeling guilty about what they are, and to start recognizing what makes them successful. The tribe only needed a few hunters to feed everyone. That’s why only 3% of us own businesses, and yet we create 62% of all the jobs in America. The farmers are still dependent on the hunters. They just think that they aren’t.

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One Response to Hunters and Farmers

  1. Lara August says:

    Wow. This is refreshing. I feel like we're hounded over and over again to fight our entrepreneurial nature and make up for our "shortcomings" – it's great to be encouraged to embrace who we are instead. I think I'll go have another cup of coffee and encourage some out there thinking for a half an hour before I sit down to review our financial reports. Thanks, John!

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