OPINION: Growing up, the highlight of my springer spaniel’s day was to accompany me to the back of the farm to fetch the cows for milking.
He would run through the paddocks with his nose to the ground, sniffing for rabbits, hares and anything else he could chase.
One day we encountered a mother duck with a line of baby ducklings following behind. The grass was long and the family were stumbling and rushing to get to the safety of the drain.
The hound caught their sent and honed in on the helpless birds. But suddenly the mother duck changed direction and with an exaggerated waddle, headed straight towards the dog, with her flapping wings stretched out beside her. She looked injured and an easy target.
The spaniel spied the duck and put 100 per cent of his effort into catching her. The mallard, half-flying, half-waddling stayed ahead of the dog, just out of reach but just close enough to make the dog think he was close to success. Soon the mother duck had led the threat away from her ducklings and she flew away, circling round to land in the drain.
That mallard had created the ultimate diversion, by positioning herself in front of the dog with feathers flapping, she was sure to get the dog’s attention and lead the dog away from the vulnerable ducklings.
As Elvis alluded, we ain’t nothing but hound dogs, and like my spaniel, we’re all susceptible to chasing the obvious strategy, policy, or goal, not realising that we’re in hot pursuit of a decoy.
The thing with decoys is they look so good but are just out of our reach, which convinces us that we’re nearly there and on the right track. So we keep going, not realising we can be so close and yet we’re actually heading in the wrong direction.
I’d suggest, if a strategy or plan is obviously the correct one to everybody involved, then its almost surely a decoy.
The truly successful, groundbreaking companies and people go against what seems logical and obvious.
Ogilvies Rory Sutherland has an interesting take on this in his book Alchemy: “The world is like a cryptic crossword clue: there is always a plausible surface meaning, but there is also a deeper answer hidden beneath the surface.”
I get the feeling the agricultural sector in New Zealand is missing something that is hidden.
For the last 20 years, the accepted belief is we’re a beautiful, clean and green country with pasture-based farms and we should be the delicatessen to the world. It’s common to hear farmers say that there will always be demand for our natural products.
The fact that almost everybody in the industry believes these things makes me wonder if its a decoy. It seems too obvious.
One of our main meat co-ops, Silver Fern Farms, had to sell to the Chinese because it was financially constrained. Last week, Westland Milk Co-op agreed to sell to the Chinese because it was financially constrained and Fonterra is selling assets because it’s financially constrained, too.
Our other meat co-op, Alliance, is hardly doing well either.
Arguably our most successful agricultural company is A2 Milk Corporation. They’re not a co-op and their core value proposition is “Easier on Digestion” and they entered the China infant formula market in a very unconventional way that seemed risky to other companies.
It was impossible for that springer spaniel of mine to resist his animal instincts and not chase the duck. Maybe we need to ask ourselves: “What’s the deeper hidden answer?” “What is not as it seems?”
Because our agriculture sector is looking more and more like a dog as the years go by.
Glen Herud is the founder of the Happy Cow Milk Company.