The General and the Farmer

"Farmer" by otomatuah on Flickr.com

"Farmer" by otomatuah on Flickr.com

I read “The Secret Sauce: Growing a Company by Word of Mouth” over on Brains On Fire  and it got me thinking about the idea of “strategy” more generally.

Strategy is a military word. It’s the “art of a general.” The idea is to design a plan of action which results in one army taking a particular territory by defeating the opposing army. Divide. Conquer. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not knocking our armed services. At all. I just think it’s odd that we take that warfighting schema into the boardrooms and cubicles of corporate America. We segment, we target, and we capture market share.

Our commercial system is built on tearing things down.

But, what if instead of being generals, we were farmers?

Farming is hard work. And farmers fight too– scarecrows, pesticides, weeding. But they fight to nurture and protect, not to divide & conquer. What would a business built around the ideas of growth & nurturing look like? How would its customers react? In the Brains On Fire post linked above, @chrissandoval says that USAA generates so much positive word of mouth by loving their customers, and showing it every time. That’s pretty cool.

Now, there’s an unexpectedly pleasant bit of irony: a company founded by active duty military officers as an example of how to focus on growth & nurturing. Pardon me while I mix metaphors, but maybe it’s like kids playing cops-and-robbers– guns, chases, epic battles. Have you ever seen a real police officer say “Bang! Hey, no fair! I SHOT you!” They’ve seen the real thing. Maybe it took a group of people with World War I in recent history– the real uses of dividing & conquering– to understand the value of nurturing & growing. “Generals” who became farmers.

What other companies are out there are Farmers?

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