Where does inspiration come from?
I find that the summer months are a time for trying to think out of the box and look for some inspiration as to which direction you want to take your business – blue sky or creative thinking.
Blue-sky thinking involves looking at an opportunity with fresh eyes. As many ideas as possible are created in an ideas generation session where none are rejected as silly. This is also a great tool for facilitating communication within a business, whether it’s the family around the kitchen table; the management team; or the whole staff.
In a previous role we did this exercise as the senior management team, but also used it with the various staff team meetings within the farms and processing. The ideas selected from these sessions we called BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals), which we then wrote in to the business plan.
Creative thinking is the process by which individuals come up with new ideas or new approaches to business. New ideas could result in a new enterprise or they could also result in a new process that cuts costs or improves quality and productivity.
Fresh ideas give businesses a competitive advantage and help make their goods, services or processes stand out in their particular field.
So where does the inspiration come from?
For me, a large part comes from visiting other businesses and speaking to their owners, managers and staff – and of course there is no better time to visit farm businesses than during the summer!
I was privileged to experience some great examples of this recently when I accompanied the Nuffield Scholars’ “Coos ‘n’ Castle” beef tour and then the International Farm Management Association specialist cropping field trips. Although both events took place on my doorstep, there was inspiration and learning opportunities by the bucketful.
The highlights for me were many, but I want to mention the very first and the very last visits of the tours – and it was the people there which inspired me most. The first visit was to Highland Wagyu at Blackford where the owners, Mohsin Altajir and Martine Chapman have taken a standard upland beef and sheep farm and turned it into the largest wagyu producer in Europe, supplying premium beef directly to chefs and private customers across the globe. Martine, who is the driving force behind this venture, was my inspiration. From never being on a farm until six years ago, her depth of knowledge and grasp of beef production and marketing is phenomenal – but then being new to the industry is perhaps a distinct advantage when thinking out of the box!
The last visit was to George and Douglas McLaren at Bankhead of Kinloch. This is a traditional family farm, but managed on anything but traditional lines. George and Douglas have built a multi enterprise business around their own strengths and skills where the foundation is built on the ethos of producing exactly what the customer wants – and includes potatoes, blackcurrants, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, malting barley and broiler chickens. The attention to detail and thought behind each enterprise selection was evident wherever we went and will stay with me for a long time to come.
Each and every visit produced something to take away and consider. The value of getting out and about and exploring other farm businesses and the people that manage them should never be under-valued.
The current business environment, with constant and significant change, requires farm business managers to think out of the box and grasp change. More importantly, farm business managers must manage the change process in a pro-active and positive manner, and crucially, ensure that their staff and stakeholders are aware of the need to change; what the change process involves; what it means to them and how they can contribute to it. Often the best ideas come from the people doing the job on a day to day basis!