Entrepreneurship, Personal Growth

Your Big Idea

Aircraft taking off


A few years ago, I spent a day selling wine with a young salesman for a distribution company in the Midwest. I was there to represent Six Sigma Ranch in his territory, so he graciously introduced me to his accounts. After a few stops it was obvious that he was a nice guy, but not passionate about selling wine. So I asked a few questions about his life and interests as we traveled, and quickly learned his passion was flying airplanes. But he had exchanged this big idea for a sales job because it seemed more safe.

By the end of the day, he had changed his mind. He decided to quit his sales job, and start school to become a commercial airline pilot. We skipped the last account (he wouldn’t have followed up on it anyway), and instead went out for coffee to celebrate his new direction in life.

Every honest person I’ve ever asked has a big idea in mind. Some big ideas are buried, but surface with a few prying questions. Some big ideas are on the surface, because their owners are already living the dream. It seems everyone has a business, a book, a mountain or a pilot’s license in mind to conquer. But most of us never pursue our big idea. We don’t because it’s unreasonably large, or we don’t have enough resources, or it just isn’t a responsible thing to do. What if we failed? What would people think? And besides, some ideas simply can’t be done!

And that’s why most of us leave the big idea alone: It can’t be done.

But chances are it can. Think of human flight. It was widely known to be impossible until it happened.

And fortunately for most, the big idea doesn’t mean quitting a job one day, and applying for pilot school the next. Most of us can work on the big idea one little bit at a time, until it starts to make sense, and doesn’t look impossible at all.

That mountain you want to climb? Start by walking a mile each morning. The book you want to write? Write a page. Then two. The farm?  Begin by growing tomatoes in your backyard, and then chickens. And if you want to fly airplanes, celebrate with a cup of coffee and go get it done.


PS. Since I’m a person of faith, I believe big ideas come from God. He built each of us for a unique mission, and he planted a passion for that mission in our hearts so deep that it won’t go away. Most likely, that mission is too big to make sense. But, again because I’m a person of faith, I believe God gives us missions that are too big for our capacity on purpose, so he might empower us to do them, and prove that he is God. In fact, if the idea in your heart seems reasonable, it’s likely too small to be from God.

Entrepreneurship, Personal Growth

Children, Garlic, and NVA’s

thWhen it comes to kids, three is more than two. Not just one more, but a lot more. I expected that Isabella, born in February, would change the game because Rachel and I are now outnumbered, but that’s not the main factor. The game changed because the older kids are now in preschool, kindergarten and baseball, while the little one eats 7 times per day and sleeps (or should sleep) 18 hours out of 24. That all takes a lot of time, especially when adding occasional attempts at grown-up conversations and gainful employment.

I share this as a segue to a time-saving epiphany, a “chef tip” I stumbled upon in a cookbook. “Tip # 7: Don’t peel the garlic before pressing.”

Say what?? You mean all the time I spend fumbling to extract those suckers from papery peel is wasted? You mean I can save several minutes and endless frustration on every spaghetti Bolognese and guacamole batch for the rest of my life? “Yes,” whispered the book at my disbelief. And, sure enough, it works. Just jam the cloves into the press and give it a squeeze.

The gurus of Six Sigma process improvement call this concept (a step that adds no value) Non-Value Adding, or NVA. (They are business gurus and not poets for a reason.) NVA’s haunt life and business alike, and often go unnoticed. The garlic epiphany, and life with an 8-week-old, makes me wonder which other NVA’s are lurking in the shadows.


Personal Growth

Finding Myself . . . . . With the Hogs


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At 18 years of age I graduated from High School and was challenged to do something with my life. I had no idea! So I started by going to college and trying classes that looked interesting. I found I loved economics but didn’t declare a major in the subject until my sophomore year. Why? Most people that study economics end up behind a desk and I didn’t want that to be my fate. I did end up getting my bachelors in Economics but decided that minors in both Biology and Business would round it out nicely. Where was I to go with that hodge podge of degrees!

It turns out that I can really use an understanding of the markets, supply/demand, pricing, subsidies, economies of scale and policy in the business of farming. A background in Ecology doesn’t hurt either. But, mostly it is my gifts, heart, abilities, personality and experiences that make me thrive with the sheep, pigs and people that I work with everyday.

What I lacked in college was a really good understanding of what made me who I am. I’m older now and have a better grasp on my strengths and weaknesses. But, I had to do extensive reading and soul-searching to be satisfied with what I do today.

If you are still confused and bewildered by how your talents fit with farming, congratulations! You are normal. Here are a few quick questions to get you started on finding yourself.

What are your Gifts? Can you name two?

Here are some examples:






Encouragement (This is me)



Where is your Heart?

Try answering these questions:

What do you spend most of your time doing?

What do you do in your spare time?

What needs around the world get you fired up?


What are your Abilities?

Try answering these questions?

Are you a Technician? Of what?

Are you an Entrepreneur? What have you attempted to start?

Are you a Manager? What systems have you made?


How do you work with people?

Try answering these questions?

Are you Decisive?

Are you Interacting?

Are you Stabilizing?

Are you Calculating?


What major Experiences make you who you are?

Can you name two?


Now that you have a profile of yourself ask one more question.

How can you use all these strengths farming?




Personal Growth

A Not-So-Secret Formula

IMG_4203 (1)Consider the organization you dream of building. How big is it? How may people does it engage? How many lives does it change?

Now consider the person running that organization. What does he or she do every day?

What does she read, and how much? Does he watch tv? How often does she exercise?

Now get personal. What does she do on the weekends? How long does he sleep, and whom does she hang out with? How does he treat people when he is worn out, and wishes they would go away? (That one hits particularly close to home for me.)

Now, what if you or I begin acting like that person, every day, starting now?


Personal Growth

Sad Day at the Ahlmann House

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We buried Maggie on Monday. Maggie joined our family as a puppy from the local pound in 2008, just as we were beginning life in California. (We acquired her as a cattle dog, until we realized she was more terrier than heeler, a bad fit for rounding up livestock!) She saw our first house, new jobs, and birth of two kids, both of which had a tough time coming to terms with the fact that she’s gone.

What the kids don’t know, and Rachel has graciously forgiven, is the fact that Maggie wouldn’t have left the yard and run into traffic if yours truly had mended the fence in a timely fashion. That fact makes the loss a little more frustrating.

So, what’s the lesson? Fix the fence when it’s broken?   Maybe. Or maybe it’s simply that some days things go according to plan, and some days your buddy gets hit by a truck. I’m not quite sure what the lesson is. But when we set out to write a blog about “success and failure in the business of agriculture,” we intended to share the good and the bad. Now you know we meant it.


Personal Growth

The Myth of “Not Enough Time.”


I can’t tell you how often I leave the office wishing I had more time to finish an exciting project. And then I leave for work the next morning thinking “if only I had more time to play with the kids or pick there persimmons in the yard.”

Time is a tricky resource, because we can’t create more. We can make more money, buy more land, and irrigate more grass, but we can’t make more time.

Or can we?

Sort of.

The trick, according to the late Zig Ziglar, is to know that time usually isn’t the limiting resource.

Consider Zig’s famous talk about “the last day before vacation.”  Mr. Ziglar observed that all humans accomplish on average twice as much on their “last day before vacation” compared to normal a day.  This debunks the myth of “I don’t have enough time,” because obviously that last day doesn’t have twice as many hours in it.

What then, is the real limiting factor?

In most cases, the limiting factor is focused energy, not time.  When we march into the office (or pasture, or workshop) on a mission, like it’s our last day before vacation, it’s remarkable what we can accomplish. That’s when we focus on the important tasks, the ones that make a real impact, instead of the mindless easy ones that don’t.

The great news then is that we have taken a resource that cannot be increased (time), and turned it into one that can, energy.  We can create more energy, of course, by sleeping well, eating right, getting more exercise and focusing on things that we are excited about. In fact, it’s about time we did.


Personal Growth

My Snooze Button is a Hindrance to Greatness


I’m a snooze button girl. Waking up in the morning feels un-natural and my big bed with the down comforter is soooo cozy. The heaviness of my eyelids and that extra 10 minutes (or 30!) of sleep often win out over exercise in the morning.

Richard Thaler, in Misbehaving, says people have a Planner and a Do-er inside of them. The Planner sets the alarm, limits personal funds for restaurant spending, keeps the house free of junk food (chocolate!), schedules the tough conversations at work and seriously writes goals for future success.

The Do-er pushes the snooze button, blows the budget because cooking is just too much work, sneaks chocolate at the grocery checkout, avoids hard things at work, and spends free, low energy time on Facebook. Thaler argues that it is the Planner’s job to design systems so the Do-er can’t make as many impulsive decisions.

It is my Do-er that often keeps me from reaching my full potential. The solution appears to be making self-control easy; my Planner should design systems or routines for personal triumphs.

I’ve been working on my Planner. It turns out it’s a lot easier to get up to exercise if my alarm is on the other side of the room and I’m forced to choose between my comfy bed and ending the incessant beeping. It’s a small win in my world but it is a step toward major personal growth.