From How? ...... to Who?

It is the simplest of changes in how I think, but the move from thinking “How?” to thinking “Who?” has been transformative to my career in farming...

In 2016, I was sitting in our farm office in Shropshire, UK; looking at our arable costings and worrying about the future viability of our business. I was clear that there was an enormous opportunity in Robotics and Artificial Intelligence to completely change the way we looked at our farm, the way understood the detail of the crops were growing and the soil in our fields. There was the potential to create an entirely digital view of our arable fields, and to take action on a digital, individual plant, level.

But I did not (do not!) know “how” to build a robot; or “how” to write code; or “how” to get the robot to route itself autonomously; or “how” Artificial Intelligence or Machine Learning works; or how to build a technology brand; or “how” to develop a business that could do all of these things.

So I started thinking “Who?” instead.  

“Who” did I know that did know about robotics and Artificial Intelligence?

I knew some people at Harper Adams University, Simon Blackmore and others, who were happy to give me 15 minutes of their time. These conversations led to others, and quite quickly I had discovered that the world was full of “whos” that filled in the “hows” that were missing from my own knowledge and understanding.

I also quickly discovered that what I did know how to do was: how to engage farmers with the idea of a better version of farming in the future. So I have focused on doing that and I have found a “who” to help me with everything else that needs to be done. 

Now, a few short months later, we are very close to having the UK’s first broad-acre arable farming robots in field...


Not all farmers are going to build their own technology startups but all farmers can embrace this new way of thinking and it could have an equally transformative effect on their businesses and their lives.

A good farmer is a practical person who is able to complete every task that happens on their farm to at least the same standard as anyone that works for them. They are masters of “how” to do things.

On arable farms there is a “how” for crop walking and monitoring; a “how” for machinery operations; a “how” for harvesting and processing. Every farm has a slightly different “how” and farmers take great pride in understanding their “hows” in enormous detail.

I can remember one farmer, a very large potato grower, saying to me early on in my

“...after about three or four years, you will know roughly how to do things but it takes about fifteen years to really become an expert and to know what the right decisions are...”

This detailed knowledge of “how”, and this desire to become an expert in a narrow field is often cited as the hallmark of a really good farmer. The farmer mentioned above is widely regarded as such.

“How?” is good, but it is also restrictive.

There is only so much “how” that one person can cope with. When faced with a new opportunity which requires a completely different skill set to those that the farmer currently possesses, such as the opportunity I have described in my own life above; the requirement to acquire these skills is often so intimidating that farmers become stuck in their thinking and the opportunity passes them by.

For others, the super motivated amongst us, your desire to master a new “how” will mean that you invest huge amounts of time, energy, and sometimes money - acquiring these skills. 

An example of this is the farmer who wants to build a website and start trading their produce under their own brand online. They spend days, weeks, months or years learning how to build websites, design packaging, acquire customers online, process payments and so on and so forth.

This is a waste of time!!! The world is full of people who already have all of those skills. If these were things that came naturally to you, you would already be doing them. Instead of spending years learning how, you could spend a few minutes connecting with the right who, and get started almost immediately. 

Farmers need to move from thinking “how do I do this?” to thinking “who could do this for me?” 

This new approach requires a willingness to give up control and cede expertise, that will not sit easily with many. If you remain obsessed with the narrow set of “hows” that a single person can cope with, there will always be a limit on what you are able to achieve.

However, if you can shift your thinking to “who?” instead of “how?”, then the ideas bouncing around in your head will cease to become simply an idea 

If you want to start trading online, or build your own premium food brand, or invest in non-agricultural enterprises, or double the scale of your existing enterprises, or whatever the ideas are that are bouncing around in your head, try thinking “who?” instead of “how?” and see if it opens up new possibilities.

“How?” in The Future - The Digital Mindset

Technology is going to change the way we farm forever.

Many of the “Hows” that farmers pride themselves on today are rational, left brain tasks that will be able to be done more quickly, more accurately and more cheaply in the future by computers, robots, AIs or a combination of these.

The most successful farmers in the future will embrace this change, and change their thinking to make the most of the opportunities that this change enables. 

Small Robot Company is working with farmers to develop the Digital Mindset - a series of thinking tools that will help farmers to prepare their thinking so that their businesses thrive in the future.

We will be running a series of workshops at the end of this year. If you are interested in receiving more details on these, then please do get in touch.

 sam@smallrobotcompany.com.