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Reads for Ranchers: Part 1

Looking for innovative, out-of-the-box ideas for your ranch business? Turn to the pages of some books that aren’t all about beef – but instead offer business, leadership and brand marketing insight

As a freelance writer covering the beef industry, I’ve attended a lot of workshops and seminars over the years and frequently hear speakers quote a great book that they’ve read. Often times, the book has little to do with beef, but the principles being taught offer some unique cross-over ideas for successful business innovation – whether you’re a rancher, own an ag business, or are in a leadership position within the industry.

Take for example the book Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t by Jim Collins. This is one that Barry Dunn, executive director of the King Ranch Institute for Ranch Management at Texas A&M University-Kingsville, and Colorado State University professor Tom Field have promoted to beef audiences for several years.

The book poses the questions “Can a good company become a great company and if so, how?” To get the answer, Collins researched over 1,400 companies and selected 11 – including Fannie Mae, Gillette, Walgreens, and Wells Fargo – who all made substantial improvements in their performance over time.

Collins found that a commonality among these companies that were “great” is that they challenged many of the conventional notions of corporate success. In his book, he shares dozens of examples from great and not so great companies and offers a road map to excellence that any business – including a ranch – would do well to consider.

Both Dunn and Field advocate that beef producers need to start thinking more like other industries and to do so, they should start by reading more business publications. Dunn says it will begin to “change your mindset.”
Field agrees and has said, “If your reading material is mostly about cattle or ranching – you’re probably not reading broadly enough. We need to learn from businesses outside our industry.”

To that end, I’ve amassed a list of “recommended reads” from several of the speakers I’ve heard over the years ranging from topics about history to leadership. So read on to see what piques your interest, and then take the time to sit down with one or more of these good books.

Innovation & Purpose

Two books that Field has quoted in his past presentations on the topic of being innovative are Reinventing Technology: Policies for Democratic Values by Michael Goldhaber and Zero Space: Moving Beyond Organizational Limits by Frank Lekanne Deprez and Rene Johannes Tissen.

Goldhaber’s book talks about being different. He suggests if there is nothing special about your work or product, no matter how hard you apply yourself you won’t get noticed. And, this increasingly means you won’t be adding value to sell your product. He goes on to discuss how to attract attention from buyers and create your success in the marketplace.

Likewise, Zero Space emphasizes that the status quo – among business or organizations – will not create success for the future. Instead the authors propose ideas for moving away from traditional, often counterproductive thinking, to create an organization that truly meets challenges. They discuss dealing with sped-up consumer demands and business relationships as well as forging alliances with customers, suppliers, and even competitors.

Along with implementing innovative ideas, one must also know their purpose. In his Seedstock Digest newsletter, Colorado-based Troy Marshall has used the quote: “Until thought is linked with purpose there is no intelligent accomplishment,” from the book As A Man Thinketh by James Allen. The book portrays the message that men and women are makers of themselves, by virtue of the thoughts which they choose and encourage.

To that point, Marshall suggests many people go through life without any definitive purpose and many seedstock operations fall into that same category. “They never stop working and are constantly striving to improve they just don’t have a purpose that defines their direction and so they never succeed in relation to their potential,” he wrote in his newsletter.

Marshall also cites the book Think and Grow Rich: The Andrew Carnegie formula for money making by Napoleon Hill, which suggests having a purpose was so important that “people would have a different (and better) story to tell about their lives if only they would adopt a definite purpose and stand by that purpose until it had time to become an all-consuming obsession.”

Of this, Marshall wrote in his newsletter that the subject of purpose is easy to gloss over and go about your business, but he encourages taking the time to define it in your life. He says, “I can almost assure you that the times that you are the most productive and the times that you feel the happiest, when you feel really good about yourself and the direction you are heading are those times that you are closest to your fundamental purpose.”

Another book on the topic of purpose that has earned a lot of attention is The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth am I here for? by Rick Warren. It is one that Field includes on his recommended reading list.