A year ago I listened to an interview with author David Weinberger on CBC radio. The host was asking questions about Weinberger’s book ‘Too Big To Know.’ Weinberger posed the question, “Who is the smartest person in the room?” His answer….the room!
In the book, the author talked about how the internet and our access to the internet have radically changed the face of knowledge and expertise. In our current environment, anyone can be an expert because of our availability to information. This is to say, in any room there may be a host of experts on a variety of topics. It got me thinking about my ‘room’ of experts.
Since I have had a few careers in my life, and have met some extraordinary people, I have a healthy list of experts I can call for advice or free information. The people I trust most are people who have actually tried something. I stay away from people who can tell me all the reasons why something won’t work when they have never actually stepped up.
The most powerful advice comes from people who are intelligent, have education, and who have a lot of experience. This last group of people are the ones I strive to have in my ‘room!’ Not only do they give me a great deal of help, they are also very interesting to talk with. They tend to have a lot of passion and are normally a wealth of knowledge on many more topics than the one at hand.
The Benefits of a Room
Having a group of experts I can call anytime has saved my bacon more times than what I would like to remember. In my ranching life I had my friend Glenda who coached us along as we learned how to graze hogs. All the formal experts and many family and friends told us it couldn’t be done. It was amazing how much people, who had never raised hogs outside of a pen, knew about why it couldn’t be done. If it hadn’t been for Glenda I don’t think we would have had the courage to try. Things with the hogs worked out very well and now hogs are my favorite animal to graze. As well, Glenda reluctantly became my friend and we have been good friends for 20 years!
As I got to know more people in the Ag community, my room expanded. It wasn’t a fast expansion because what we were doing was outside the realm of normal and we were often referred to as the ‘hippies who live on Jackson’s hill.’
A big break came when I was asked to set up electric fencing for a neighbor who was the largest cattle producer in the county. He was having trouble finding the know-how and the time to set things up himself. I was blindly confident I was up to the task. In fact, I thought it was my dream job!
That first year was hell and I kept asking, “What had I got myself into?” Luckily I am pretty stubborn so I tucked my chin and worked like hell to make it happen. I knew there were a lot of eyes on me.
Once Kelly saw how effective electric fencing was and his wife wasn’t constantly answering phone calls about cattle being out, things became much easier. Kelly and I became friends and he is one of the people in my room. He has helped me out more than once.
Kelly was there for me when I over estimated how many cattle we could run on a new rental property. I knew three weeks in advance what I had done, but I did not know what to do about the situation. I started to panic and after one sleepless night I called Kelly to ask what I should do.
First thing he said, “Don’t worry. There are a lot worse things that can happen.” The next thing we did was go for a drive. Kelly showed me some land he wasn’t really using and would be easy to electric fence. Then he suggested I send the whole herd to a property he was involved with. Two weeks later the cattle were on the trucks to the new property and we ended up running cattle there for two years. I relate these stories because you never know how things will turn out when you ask for help. The critical part is that you have to ask.
Are you building your room?
A couple months ago I was explaining to a friend about my room. He wasn’t quite getting it. His idea is that he has to get an outside expert to help him with his business ideas. I firmly pointed out that he was wrong. He already had access to all the help he required within his influence of contacts.
Now Bill is one of those guys that everyone likes. In fact, I don’t know anyone who does not like him. I envy that.lol Not only is he likable, he is incredibly handy at many things. Again I envy that. People naturally gravitate to him and want to help him in any way possible. However, Bill does not ask! For some reason he feels he is a bother to people if he asks. “How stupid!” I told him. People love helping. I know I have felt very good the times I have forced my advice on him.
Once I talked some sense into him, he realized he does have a large room of experts. He just has to ask. In fact, a month after that conversation, his business ideas began happening in a big way. He just had to reach out to a contact he had helped out on more than one occasion.
It has been my experience that we never really know how things will play out once we start asking for advice from our room of experts. A key point though, is to build your room wisely. Like I said earlier, the best advice comes from people who are intelligent, educated, and who have tried things. Stay away from contrarians. These are the people who crap on every new idea or anything out of the ordinary. These are the people who sit in the coffee shop every morning and complain about everything!
If you are not sure who these people are, just ask yourself how you feel after being around a person. If you are not uplifted & energized then that is a person to avoid. About 17 years ago I went to the coffee shop because I thought I was missing out. My friend Kelly was not happy because he wondered who they were going to talk about if I was there. lol
I went for coffee for two days that week. Each time after I left the coffee shop I went home and felt like hanging myself! Stay away from people who make you feel that way.
My final thoughts on building your room
• Ask questions of people you meet. You never know who may be an expert. The cool thing about meeting someone who is an expert is that they are normally pretty interesting.
• Get enough info so you can contact them at a later date. You never know when their expertise could help you out. I don’t always ask for contact info (don’t want them to think I’m a stalker), however, I get info like where they live, mutual acquaintances, where they work, etc. It may take some detective work if you ever want to pick their brain, but at least you will have a place to start.
• ASK!! The only way to get the help you require is to ask. It took me several years to be comfortable with calling up someone I didn’t know very well. Each time I felt trepidation picking up the phone, I would remind myself that people feel honored to be asked for their advice.
• Park your ego. If you don’t know or don’t understand something, ask for clarification rather than keep your mouth shut. Most people are pretty tickled when they can tell you something new.
• If you do not have a personal connection with someone, they are not in your room. Sending an email to an author or speaker is not the same as emailing someone you met at a party.
That’s all I have to say about that.
Good luck and get started building your room of experts today!
More from Tom!
Tom’s On Pasture articles cover livestock handling, good pasture management, and most importantly how to make raising livestock easy and profitable. I highly recommend them.
I’m also really excited about his new book, “Ranching Like a 12-year-old: Ranching that is simple, easy and fun!” He shares his decades of experience managing grazing livestock to help you grow more grass including:
• managing for the “sweet spot” so you can grow more grass and raise more livestock,
• how-tos for designing paddocks, water and fencing hacks, and using grazing charts
• Stockpiling options to reduce labor and extend the grazing season, and
• lessons on economics to improve your profitability
It even includes links to videos so you can really get a handle on what he’s describing.
I think you’ll learn a lot from Tom and you’ll appreciate his emphasis on making a living from the land in way that not only preserves it, but improves it. Tom is also available to speak at your workshops and events.
Kathy Voth, Editor/Publisher