Mastery 101?

For many people, the close of the calendar year is a time to assess our business’s performance and plan for the next year. Be sure also to take stock of the changes in your knowledge, skills and expertise — things that won’t ever show up on a balance sheet  but are critical to your long term success. Growth of your “intangible” assets deserves recognition, and one of the best “gifts” aspiring and new farmers can give their businesses in 2012 is to strategically and intentionally invest in expanding your expertise.

Expert Enough‘s Corbett Barr has been studying what it takes to develop expertise. He offers five simple principles — all of which apply to aspiring and new farmers.

1. Accept that “expert” is a relative term.

“You don’t need to be the world’s foremost expert on something to benefit from what you know. Being expert enough means knowing enough or being good enough to accomplish your goals, however modest or grand they may be.”

And you don’t have to wait to share your expertise. Barr recommends thinking about expertise on a scale of 1 to 10. “If you’re a two or three on the scale, you’re expert enough to help people who are ones and twos,” Barr says. This idea resonates with our experiences with beginning farmers — defined as people with less than 10 years experience in a particular operation. Sometimes, farmers with three- to five-years’ experience are better suited to helping start-ups might than those with larger and more mature operations, because they’re closer to their level and better understand the challenges the start-ups are facing.

2. Learn from books and experience.

Successful farmers draw from research-based knowledge, others experience and their own real-world practice. Sometimes the learning is simultaneous, but frequently its sequential. The trick is to find the balance between learning and doing.  “If you’ve been mostly learning, it’s probably time to start doing,” Barr says. “If you’ve long been practicing without the results you’re looking for, it’s time to learn more and time to focus.”

3. Focus.

“It’s easy to become daunted by everything you have to master to reach your final goal,” Barr observes. Instead, try to focus on the next step you need to take to move forward. That’s why all of the UVM New Farmer Project’s courses devote time to action planning.

4. Get outside help.

“At some point, learning and practicing will only get you so far. You need feedback from outsiders to uncover more opportunities for improvement.” Whether it’s a farmer mentor or an Extension specialist, an outside perspective can be pivotal to moving to the next level or phase of business.

5. Make some mistakes.

You have to be willing to make some mistakes in order to learn and grow. In farming, it’s important simultaneously manage risks and to take some chances. That’s what practice is. The clearer you are about the risks you’re comfortable taking (and the one’s you’re not) the sooner you can become comfortable with making mistakes and the quicker you’ll learn new skills and expanding your knowledge.


About Beth Holtzman

Beth Holtzman is outreach and education coordinator for the UVM New Farmer Project the Women's Agricultural Network.
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