Two problem-solving approaches popular in other industries have been adapted by a West Country consultant to help farmers.
The ‘Tractor Wheel of Life’ and the concept of ‘tame’ and ‘wicked’ problems can help farmers address some of their biggest challenges, says Mike Rowe, a former agricultural banker who is involved with the Two Minute Farmer, a project helping people in agriculture tackle big issues by breaking them into manageable chunks.
“When you visit your GP, one of the first things they do is take your temperature and check your blood pressure,” explains Mr Rowe. “So we’ve devised the Tractor Wheel of Life as a quick, two-minute exercise to gauge the pulse of your life and business.”
The visual device sees participants score themselves on how satisfied they are with the subjects forming the eight spokes, such as their financial situation, health, family life and succession planning.
Drawing a line from score to score creates a ‘wheel’ shape, giving an at-a-glance guide of how satisfied you are, how balanced your life is, how confident you are about the future and how much stress you might be experiencing.
The resulting shape is also a great starting point to address the reasons and factors behind each score, explains Mike.
“Farmers are incredibly resourceful, talented people with an amazing work ethic, but it’s easy to feel swamped by the pressures of 21st century life.
“We need to find a way of easing the pressure and creating some space that allows the brain to think for itself and deal with challenges, as opposed to being overwhelmed by them.
“The Tractor Wheel of Life then asks farmers to list the reasons for their scores and, alongside one, decide if it’s a tame or a wicked problem. The former have a linear solution (changing a tractor clutch, for example, as the work has to be done in a set order and you know when it’s done). The latter have no linear solution and the only way to find a solution is through trial-and-error (maximising milk yields, for example, as there are many different possible actions and you never know if you have totally maximised them).
“If you then prioritise working out linear solutions and target dates for the tame problems, you’re specifically addressing those while also making space for your brain to subconsciously deal with the wicked problems. You will then find that solutions spring to the front of your mind – they’ll still involve trial-and-error, but are usually effective.
“Using the Tractor Wheel of Life and thinking about tame and wicked problems is a step in the right direction to taking control of more aspects of your life,” concludes Mike.