Are You Hunter or Farmer?


Are you a hunter or a farmer?  Not actually, but in how you organize your career.

The essential difference is that farmers are about process and hunters are about events.

Hunters look for a situation that matches their talents and BANG!   Done!  Now go find another situation that works.

Farmers create and nourish the things that nourish them.  They build structures that carry out their goals.  They manage the process with the idea that the outcome will be reasonably predictable.

The hunter does not know, clearly, what will happen on a given day.  The hunter seeks contacts, people, problems or opportunities.  Every day they wake up unemployed.  Some days are dry some are spectacularly good.  They are on offense all the time.  Bad things will happen unless they find the situations they need.

Farmers do not seek a special situation.  They have already built it.  They are looking for more of the same.  They watch for the things that will derail the carefully constructed process.  Farmers are on defense all the time.  Bad things will happen unless they are vigilant.  Long plans.  Preventive actions.  Skill building.  Maintenance.

It has to do with how they seek fulfillment.  Fishermen and trappers fit the model too, but in a different way.  They are hunters since they are event driven.  But they are more passive.  They bring the game to them rather than seeking it out.  A little hunter and a little farmer.

The hunter farmer difference is the difference between starting a new business and buying a McDonald’s franchise.  Both could be successful but the operational details are different.  Neither is wrong, but they are fundamentally unalike.

Hunters cannot run businesses once they have built them.  It is boring.  To a hunter, it is like constructing a clock and then watching it run.  Not fun.  No high.   Instead, they tinker with things that work, ignore efficiencies that are obvious but do not involve the hunt, or fail to notice people encroaching on their turf.  Think RIM.

Problems arise when either tries to do the job of the other.  The builder-type (hunter) cannot communicate with the runner-type (farmer) because they share nothing.  Their time frames are wrong, hunters favor immediacy as in the long run is lunch, their methods conflict, only one of them trusts others enough to delegate well, their risk tolerances are unalike.  Hunters want to achieve results by themselves and to get credit by themselves.  Runners want to achieve results through the efforts of others and share credit.

They can work together as long as they do not try to do the same things.  It works if they can separate the tasks.

Notice Steve Bulmer doing the day-to-day at Microsoft while Bill Gates did the hunting.  Steve Jobs was the visionary, but Tim Cook tilled the fields.  Notice how Mark Zuckerberg found a runner early on.  Sheryl Sandburg knows how to do the things that inventive geniuses do not or will not.  There are more.  Meg Whitman formerly at EBay comes to mind.  Edwin Land was the genius at Polaroid but never rose above vice-president, research in the corporate hierarchy, even though he was the dominant owner of shares.

So what?

Financial advisers tend to be hunters.  That is how they earn their pay in the early days and they have never climbed away from that method.  Mostly because it works.  The farmer mentality does not work in the early going because there is nothing to run.  Not enough income.  Farmers mostly do not survive.

As they mature though, hunter-based businesses could benefit from some farming methods and thinking.  Existing client service would improve immediately.  (tilling the fields.)  So would dull things like filing, training, compliance, marketing, and staffing.  (preventing bad things)

Clients would be harvested instead of hunted.  Hunting could still go on but it would tend to be for bigger game.  With a steady predictable income happening on the farm, the hunter can become more specialized.  You may have noticed that lions do not hunt rabbits.  However, they might if they were hungry or concerned about becoming hungry or did not know any other way to eat.

Most advisers start by hunting rabbits and they never move on very far.  They need to find a farmer to help them.

A very few have done that.  They now have a large prosperous farm with a game preserve on the corner.  They leave farming to others and go to the preserve when they feel the need to hunt.  They do not hunt rabbits.  Ever.

If they come home without a catch, the farm will have provided dinner.

Now something to think about for a bit.  Is farming a marketable advantage?  If you were a client would you rather deal with a farmer or a hunter?

Don Shaughnessy is a retired partner in an international accounting firm and is presently with The Protectors Group, a large personal insurance, employee benefits and investment agency in Peterborough Ontario.  [email protected]