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Editor’s Note: Six ingredients of an ideal farm successor

Several articles in our May/June issue of Country Guide examine what may be the toughest question of all. Does your farm’s next generation have what it’s going to take to succeed in 2050?

Fortunately, science can help.

I’ve suggested before in this space that as farms continue their likely evolution in asset value and in complexity, the science that is going to make the biggest difference isn’t biogenetics or electronic engineering or any of the other usual candidates. It’s psychology.

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Tom Button
Tom Button

Here’s an example. Imagine you have several children who wish to come back to the farm. Which should be the CEO?

Psychology has come a long way in helping make an informed choice. In particular, researchers at University College London have defined six ingredients in what they call their High Potential Trait Inventory.

How do your candidates score for these traits? How do you?

First is conscientiousness. In other words, if you say you will do a thing, do you carry through?

This has long been valued on the farm. Now, it turns out that in almost every business context, conscientiousness is second only to intelligence in predicting an individual’s performance.

In fact, even in an academic setting, U.S. studies show that conscientiousness is a better predictor of success than SAT scores.

On farms, the research means conscientious individuals are better planners. They’re less likely to get distracted by passing fads. They focus on the result.

Second is more surprising. It’s curiosity, but not the kind of curiosity that wonders what kind of truck the farmer down the road will buy. This curiosity wonders how a thing works, what the science is, and whether it will always work that way.

Not surprisingly, in this context, curious individuals are a step ahead at adapting to change.

Related to this is courage. If your head tells you what direction is right, will you persevere despite what other people think, even in the family?

Psychologists call the next trait adjustment. When the pressure is on, does your performance trail off? How quick are you to learn from mistakes?

Then comes a trait called ambiguity tolerance. Do you make your decision before the conversation starts and then look for evidence to back your opinion up? Or are you good at not deciding until you’ve heard all sides? Individuals with high ambiguity scores excel at making good decisions in a changing environment.

And last comes competitiveness. It isn’t necessarily a trait that makes a person warm and friendly. But is warm and friendly what your farm needs?

Google will reveal more about each of these traits. But even without a lot of extra detail, it’s worth imagining how such a framework might play out on your own farm.

My bet is it will lead many of us into some very important thinking.

Are we getting it right? Let me know at [email protected].

About the author

Editor

Tom Button is editor of Country Guide magazine.

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