One crisp, clear day an entrepreneur was driving through the countryside and came upon a farmer toiling in a field. The sight of the farmer’s intent focus on the ground as he worked his way down the field sparked the curiosity of the entrepreneur so he pulled his car over and sauntered up to the fence to watch. The farmer, along with his horse drawn wagon was closely inspecting the dirt as he went along. Every so often, the farmer would push back some dirt and pick up a rock. Some of the rocks were small, no bigger than the size of the farmer’s hand. Others were the size of watermelons and required extra effort to get them in the back of the wagon.
After a few minutes, the farmer noticed the entrepreneur leaning on the fence and walked over. “How’s it going?” said the farmer. “Great” said the entrepreneur. “I couldn’t help but notice you as I drove by and wondered with all the rocks you are picking up if this was a new field.” “No” replied the famer. “Been planting and harvesting this field for a good part of 30 years.” “Incredible.” said the entrepreneur “You would think after all this time all the rocks would be long gone. “Funny thing about that.” replied the farmer. “Every year about this time I come out to this field and find new rocks that need removing before I can plant. In fact, I do the same thing with all the fields on the farm. The first few years, I thought the same as you. But I learned that new rocks seem to find their way into the field every year. I can’t ignore them and I can’t work around them because even the smallest ones are in the way of a great crop.” The entrepreneur shook his head in amazement and said, “I’m really impressed with your dedication and attention to those rocks.” The farmer replied, “It’s just a part of being a farmer I reckon. I have to find the rocks and remove them before I can plant the seed. Otherwise, my crop won’t be as good as I want it to be. I have enough things going against me, like weather and seed costs that I can’t control so I need to pay attention to the things I can. Like these rocks.”
After a minute or two of leaning on the fence, the farmer turned to the entrepreneur and said, “You think the rocks are tough? See that tree at the edge of the field? The roots have started growing out into the field where I plant and I’m going to have to take it out. Now that is going to make removing these rocks look easy.” “Why can’t you just leave the tree there and plant around it?’ asked the entrepreneur. “I could,” answered the farmer, “but every square foot of soil is important so I need to keep all that I can for my crops. And besides, if I don’t it will just keep growing and I’ll have less room to plant each year. Less room means less to harvest. So, as grand as she is, she has to come out.”
The entrepreneur stood there a moment, then looked at the farmer and said, “Sounds like you have your work cut out for you. I suppose I should let you get back to it. I don’t think you will ever know how much I have learned stopping here today.” The farmer shook his hand and turned back to the field. As he ambled back towards the wagon a great smile emerged on his face.
The entrepreneur got back in his car and as he continued down the road he thought about all the farmer had said and how just like the farmer, he had to take the time to continue uncovering rocks that got in the way of his business. From the smallest to the largest, they all had to be removed so the company could continue to move ahead.
He determine right then and there that every time he wanted to ignore, overlook, side-step, or work around a rock he would think of the farmer and his dedication over some 30 years.
He also decided that no matter how grand a problem was, he wouldn’t give ground. He would take on the tough challenge to remove it, roots and all, no matter how big it looked.
As for the smile on the farmers face? This wasn’t the first entrepreneur whose curiosity at the sight of the farmer started a conversation about something as simple as rocks.
As an entrepreneur, executive, or leader of others, are you committed to removing every rock no matter how small or how large? Are you willing to take on the big problems so they don’t slowly root themselves into your team, stealing momentum and alignment? If you aren’t, make a choice and start today.