Routine is the enemy of innovation.
Routine is not bad. In fact, it is comforting. I do certain tasks, a certain way, in a certain order, and, generally, for a certain amount of time. Routine permits predictability and allows for planning. Routine evolves from experience. Experience is the what you have right after you needed it. Therefore, routine develops over time. Yet, if allowed, it can slowly numb the analytical process. Allowing the force of routine to control us results in the answer to the question, “Why do you do it that way?” to be, “That’s the way we have always done it.”
Perspective defeats routine. Gaining perspective helps change the answer to a reflection: “Why have we always done it this way?” I had a boss once who asked “Why” three times when presented with solutions to a problem. If the answer could not be defended with a coherent response the solution was not entirely thought out. While some may view that process a bit excessive, the fact that he made me think about what I was recommending and anticipate possible second and third order effects made me a better planner.
For me, one important value in VALOR is perspective. We have completed four sessions, two virtual and two in person. The first in person session was in the Tidewater/Eastern shore. The second was in the Shenandoah Valley. What interested me most were the issues facing the farmers and local leaders and “how” goods were being produced rather than “what.” Both in the Tidewater/Eastern Shore and the Shenandoah Valley, pressures on productive land from different forms of development are forcing local leaders to have conversations and make difficult decisions on tax policy, land conversion, and future direction.
Additionally, economic forces are requiring farmers to embrace technologies to become more efficient, recognize opportunities to take advantage of a service deficit, or identify niche markets which have high demand but few players.
Regardless if it is row crops, maple syrup, soil nutrients, energy generation, or milk production, every farmer or business we visited clearly demonstrated well planned and creative innovation is essential to evolving and surviving. For example, repurposing a dairy’s vacuum milking system to make maple sap collection more efficient, adopting robot technology to save labor, training employees to listen to customer to identify a business opportunity, adding value to sweet potatoes to draw customers to a farm store. However, the innovation road is not smooth. Many of our hosts openly shared the trials and tribulations they experienced on the way. These conversations provide perspective.
The perspective I am gaining renews and energizes me. It means any one approach is not necessarily better, just different. Accepting that is hugely important. Therefore, expanding my perspective is a matter of routine.