Dr Kohl: Tunnel Vision
Dr. Dave Kohl
Corn flows into an open trailer on a sunny day.

Dave Kohl

What are some ways to reduce tunnel vision? I was asked this question while speaking to an agriculture producer group recently. Often, we get set in our ways of doing daily tasks and may struggle to open up to the views of the big picture.

First, one of the best methods to get outside the norm is to regularly schedule at least three to five seminars or short courses to attend annually for you, your management team, and in some cases, your employees. As a best management practice, each individual who attends an educational event should be responsible for bringing back a list of perspectives and actions that would enhance the business acumen. These perspectives need to be circulated in the business so others can benefit from them. Setting time aside to discuss the new information and challenge the business norm is critical for avoiding tunnel vision.

Some producers are forming peer groups around the country and even with Canadian peers to meet each quarter to exchange ideas and perspectives. They often meet by videoconference or through webcasts during which a presenter provides beneficial information to the group. These peer groups also meet face-to-face once a year to visit, evaluate peer businesses and exchange ideas related to common issues and best practices.

Another recommendation is to plan one or two opportunities per year to get outside the field of agriculture. Last year, I facilitated a group of 100 producers through the Disney leadership experience. Seeing the world from outside your industry can be a valuable experience that combats tunnel vision. Some farms and ranches have joined business groups with an affiliation outside of agriculture. Internationally, the Eisenhower Fellowships and Nuffield Farming Scholars are elite groups of “outside the box” thinkers.

For young people, state agricultural leadership programs can be a valuable eye-opener. These programs usually involve individuals who have an interest in some facet of the agriculture industry, such as production, lending, public policy, education or agribusiness. These programs often include an international experience to broaden the participants’ horizons.
Another option for focusing on the big picture is to set aside some time to shut down technology and think strategically. Getting away from the normal daily tasks for a while can stimulate big ideas and elevate your thinking from a tactical to a strategic level.

In summary, this challenge is not an easy one. One must be disciplined and desire to be challenged outside the status quo to avoid tunnel vision.



Dr. Kohl is Professor Emeritus of Agricultural Finance and Small Business Management and Entrepreneurship in the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Dr. Kohl has traveled over 8 million miles throughout his professional career and has conducted more than 6,000 workshops and seminars for agricultural groups such as bankers, Farm Credit, FSA, and regulators, as well as producer and agribusiness groups. He has published four books and over 1,300 articles on financial and business-related topics in journals, extension, and other popular publications.

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