Derek’s Stony Field Analogy

Derek Blair Partner

Pinkham Blair Conversational Accountants Herts Beds Bucks London

….. I often think of things from a farmer’s perspective.

(The story of why I’m an English accountant rather than a Scottish farmer will have to wait for another day,)

An example of this is my Stony Field Analogy.

  • Imagine you have just inherited or acquired a plot of poor-quality marginal agricultural land that you intend to turn into a more productive farm.
  • But the productivity (and profitability) of your potential farm is going to be hampered by the fact that it appears to contain more stones than grass – it is a stony field.
  • What do you do – live with the stones and hope that you can make a living as a sheep farmer forever?
  • Or decide that you are going to improve your prospects by trying to improve the land itself?
  • Turning a stony field into a field that you could plough and grow wheat in is going to be a mammoth job.
  • Contemplating doing any mammoth job overnight is daunting – generally too daunting for any sane person to take it on. Especially while you are busy being a sheep-farmer day-in and day-out.
  • However, by setting yourself a smaller daily target of digging out a couple of stones each day, you’ll find over time that the field is starting to improve and maybe a quarter of it can be turned over to growing wheat after half a decade of de-stoning.
  • And in the meantime, you continue to farm sheep, because you’ve got bills to pay and a family to feed.
  • And what did we do with all the stones – well, we’ve used them to build a wall to partition the field so that the sheep in the other three quarters don’t eat the wheat that we’ve just planted in the less stony quarter!
  • And over time, a second quarter is sufficiently stoneless to also be ploughed and so on until, possibly over a lifetime, a stony field is converted into prime agricultural land.

What gets me out of bed and dashing into the office every morning is the thought that I will find a couple of stones to dig out and carry to the edge of the field that day.

It has become my driver – my daily pursuit of stones.

Now it just so happens that about 10 years after I’d invented my Stony Field Analogy, I stumbled across a wonderful book written by a Californian chap called Jeff Olson that articulated the same idea, but in a more polished way. Jeff’s book is called The Slight Edge.

The Stony Field Analogy works particularly well for me because of my Scottish farming heritage. It might not work for you.

Therefore, I recommend reading The Slight Edge to see whether you can discover your own equivalent analogy.

Jeff’s idea (which I believe is very similar to mine but articulated much better) is that living a life of accepting responsibility and practicing a few simple disciplines every day over a long period of time will eventually take you on an upwards curve. The opposite path, which may be described as a life of blame, exhibited in a few errors of judgement repeated every day over a long period of time, will eventually take you on a downwards curve.

Now the funny thing about these different lives/curves, is that for a long time there is no perceptible difference between them. They don’t actually start to inflect away from each other for many years.

But then suddenly they do…

Is there a field near you that needs some stones dug-out and carried to the side?

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