Look for Well-Disguised Opportunities in 2016

January 1, 2016 05:19 AM
Look for Well-Disguised Opportunities in 2016

For those of us of a certain age, the pastime of distilling years of experiences into near-wisdom occupies (too) much of our time. Occasionally, we do seem to stumble into moderately useful advice. The following might qualify as such.

As the farm economy plows through more troubled waters, there will be great opportunities to grow your business, improve your competitive position and boost your future prospects. Those opportunities, though, won’t look like what you might think.

Winston Churchill once faced a difficult political defeat. His wife, trying to soften the blow, told him, “It may be a blessing in disguise.” He replied, “At the moment, it seems quite effectively disguised.” I think he was onto something.

Switch Lenses. In hard times, we see events and conditions through a different lens. The possible problems and adverse consequences seem more visible than when profits are high and the future is promising. Over the next few months, these filters will make unexpected opportunities look more like headaches.

This is a natural defense by our brains. Under stress, more attention is paid to the threat of loss. Stress emphasizes a sense of vulnerability and sharpens the instinct for self-protection. The risks associated with a situation might not have changed, but we will assign a higher probability to them.

I tried to explain part of this in my column, “The Audacity Paradoxes” in March 2013. My attempt went poorly, it seems, as many people commented they couldn’t follow me. The argument boiled down to this: Audacious people tend to have a competitive advantage because conservative operators become even more conservative in hard times, precisely when they are in a superior competitive position to take on risk. In short, if you were leery of the future in 2013, you are probably not itching to gamble in 2015.

My experience suggests the upcoming time of struggle will present producers with chances to advance that, if taken, will look like brilliant decisions years from now. Right now, they are misperceived as just another way to lose money.

Listen For Deals. It is during times like these, not during record profits, that we earn our futures. The halcyon years we enjoyed were the fruits of risks taken in the preceding decades, especially the 1980s. 

For example, in 1987, my banker told me about a piece of ground almost next to me on which he was holding a shaky mortgage. He mentioned it not once, but repeatedly. Re-reading my notes from my calculations, I thought the price of $1,250 per acre (no, I’m not missing a zero) was way out of line. We worked out a plan to buy it despite my serious misgivings. 

It was an effectively disguised opportunity. In the near future, I believe such camouflaged good deals will not just knock but hammer repeatedly on our doors. These possibilities will look like aggravations, irritations and disasters-in-waiting. Three years ago, the same offers would have seemed a gift from heaven.

Manage Your Biases. Economists call this skewed judgment mood affiliation. We cannot fully escape its effects, but knowing we’re not seeing things objectively can temper our assessment when we open the door.

Try asking, “What could go right?” What I learned from the ‘80s was not so much about how to defend but when to go on offense. 

Another blinder is politics. Farmers are overwhelmingly conservative and Republican, and the intensity of their animosity toward President Obama is remarkable. Many will be unable to envisage anything positive about the future until January 2017 out of ideological loyalty and habit. 

This suggests a window for those who can manage their biases in order to see circumstances as objectively as possible. When opportunity knocks in 2016, it probably won’t look like Miss America. 

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Spell Check

Bushnell, IL
1/1/2016 08:06 AM

  Spot on! We silver hairs can remember the lessons of the 80's. Now if only we can overcome our fears and put them to task. Like in life we do not grow in the good times.

Colby, KS
1/2/2016 01:10 AM

  Words of wisdom that could not be written any better hats off to you HAPPY NEW YEAR

Dan Head
Oregon, IL
1/1/2016 05:55 PM

  Yes Steve, you are correct about the 80"s. What we learned was the management skills to grow are business and continue farming. The decisions that I make in 2016 ( my 41th Year farming) are so, I can farm in 2017.


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