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« Free inspiration and insight | Main | What's expected vs. what's amazing »

Hunters and Farmers

10,000 years ago, civilization forked. Farming was invented and the way many people spent their time was changed forever.

Clearly, farming is a very different activity from hunting. Farmers spend time sweating the details, worrying about the weather, making smart choices about seeds and breeding and working hard to avoid a bad crop. Hunters, on the other hand, have long periods of distracted noticing interrupted by brief moments of frenzied panic.

It's not crazy to imagine that some people are better at one activity than another. There might even be a gulf between people who are good at each of the two skills. Thom Hartmann has written extensively on this. He points out that medicating kids who might be better at hunting so that they can sit quietly in a school designed to teach farming doesn't make a lot of sense. 

A kid who has innate hunting skills is easily distracted, because noticing small movements in the brush is exactly what you'd need to do if you were hunting. Scan and scan and pounce. That same kid is able to drop everything and focus like a laser--for a while--if it's urgent. The farming kid, on the other hand, is particularly good at tilling the fields of endless homework problems, each a bit like the other. Just don't ask him to change gears instantly.

Marketers confuse the two groups. Are you selling a product that helps farmers... and hoping that hunters will buy it? How do you expect that people will discover your product, or believe that it will help them? The woman who reads each issue of Vogue, hurrying through the pages then clicking over to Zappos to overnight order the latest styles--she's hunting. Contrast this to the CTO who spends six months issuing RFPs to buy a PBX that was last updated three years ago... she's farming.

Both groups are worthy, both groups are profitable. But each group is very different from the other, and I think we need to consider teaching, hiring and marketing to these groups in completely different ways. I'm not sure if there's a genetic component or if this is merely a convenient grouping of people's personas. All I know is that it often explains a lot about behavior (including mine).

Some ways to think about this:

  • George Clooney (in  Up in the Air) and James Bond are both fictional hunters. Give them a desk job and they freak out.
  • Farmers don't dislike technology. They dislike failure. Technology that works is a boon.
  • Hunters are in sync with Google, a hunting site, farmers like Facebook.
  • When you promote a first-rate hunting salesperson to internal sales management, be prepared for failure.
  • Farmers prefer productive meetings, hunters want to simply try stuff and see what happens.
  • Warren Buffet is a farmer. So is Bill Gates. Mark Cuban is a hunter.
  • Hunters want a high-stakes mission, farmers want to avoid epic failure.
  • Trade shows are designed to entrance hunters, yet all too often, the booths are staffed with farmers.
  • The last hundred years of our economy favored smart farmers. It seems as though the next hundred are going to belong to the persistent hunters able to stick with it for the long haul.
  • A hunter will often buy something merely because it is difficult to acquire.
  • One of the paradoxes of venture capital is that it takes a hunter to get the investment and a farmer to patiently make the business work.
  • A farmer often relies on other farmers in her peer group to be sure a purchase is riskless.
Who are you hiring? Competing against? Teaching?

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Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Hunters and Farmers:

» Hunters and Gatherers (sorry, Seth) from bigPicture
Hunters and Gatherers are roles that are critically important to every civilization throughout history. Your organization (expecially your sales team) is no different. [Read More]

» Seth Godin Talks "Hunters" and "Farmers" - But He's Really Talking Brain Types from Brain Typology - The Science Of Human Motivation
The differences in shopping and buying habits today are similar to the differences between hunters and farmers of the dark ages - but the brain types of the people doing the various methods remain the same [Read More]

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