What can studying a farm teach us about running a business, long-term planning, and investing in general? Quite a bit.
The Biggest Little Farm is a documentary following a couple (and their dog) as they embark on a journey to create and maintain a self-sustaining farm in California. After sourcing funds, they buy a plot of run-down farmland. Despite the overwhelming obstacles of dead soil, weeds, and a lack of proper irrigation, they methodically get to work building towards their vision of a robust ecosystem. With an eye on a goal that seems impossibly distant at times, we follow along as they take step after step towards a brightening horizon. The results are stunning. Here are a few broadly applicable lessons:
There’s never enough time to do it right, but always enough time to do it over. We can’t let perfection be the enemy of good enough, and we can’t let good enough fail to meet a fairly high standard. The cost of shortcuts, laziness and silly mistakes negatively compounds. In any business where there’s an endless supply of problems to solve (aka every business), the quality of even the smallest jobs has a stacking effect that will impact everything else. There will be do-overs, but let them be for the right, unexpected reasons.
Diversify diversity. Everything has its place in an ecosystem. By purposefully making room for a range of plants and animals, or for ideas and people, we are cultivating a system that is bigger than any one member. Monocultures have singular upside potential and singular risks. They’re all right our all wrong. Diverse cultures trade away some upside in exchange for both defense and the emergent properties of available combinations. With principles and purpose, diversity always wins over a long time horizon.
Observation followed by creativity is our greatest ally. If we take the time to observe and see what’s really going on within a situation, we can often find a novel solution to our problems that are hiding in plain sight. Ducks make much more sense after they solve a snail problem. A “too many gophers” issue gets resolved by mounting barn owl boxes that almost magically get inhabited. If we plan for a diverse system and look to creatively correct towards our broader purpose, we have to do much less micromanagement and massive manual overrides along the way. We already have the pieces, sometimes we just need to reposition them.
We could keep listing takeaways from The Biggest Little Farm, but we’ll stop here. Here’s a recap of the takeaways for building a successful ecosystem:
Know the vision and keep walking towards it.
Care about getting the little stuff right.
Embrace diversity, it’s a good defense.
Embrace diversity, it’ll produce unexpected opportunities.
Be creative. Repurpose when possible. The old way is never the only way.
Once the vision starts to become a reality, celebrate what’s been accomplished, but embrace that there’s no true end. In time, learn to celebrate the process, not just the outcomes.
Back to work. That’s certainly what they’re doing on the farm.