You’ve all seen the bumper sticker: “If it ain’t grown, it’s mined.” I realized some years ago that this is a powerful metaphor for many things in life and I started to divide people into farmers and miners. I came to this realization when I watched how our neighbor, who owns 23 vacation rentals, maintained his property like a miner. That is to say he focuses on extracting value, not on growing something of value. The once-beautiful log house he has next to us is falling down. You can give it a swift kick and break off the butt end of a log. It should be worth a million dollars, but it is unsellable because of its condition.
In addition, one of the main products of his business is disgruntled guests. Employees tell me that a very high percentage demand a refund because of the condition of the units. In other words, he’s a miner. He takes the income he can out of the house and and the customer and puts none of it back. Like a miner who’s done with the land, it has less value than when he first arrived there.
In the real world, miners mine because you can’t get beryllium any other way. They mine it because they can’t grow it. But in the metaphoric world, it’s often a choice between a mining approach and a farming approach, extracting value or cultivating value, making it worse or making it better. We have our own yosemite vacation rental, but we like to think of ourselves more as farmers. Our house is more modest than the log castle, but we put the effort in to make it better. We try to turn our rental income back into the house to give people a great experience. We want to build long term value in the building and we also want to build long-term relations with our customers. We essentially get no complaints, because we think of our transactions as cultivating a relationship, not exploiting one.
But since I first started thinking of our neighbor as a miner, I find it a useful heuristic for looking at all sorts of things. It’s a question I can ask myself (is this miner or farmer behavior?). It’s a screen for looking at all sorts of decisions, actions, relationships and so forth.
So are you a farmer or a miner?