A couple of years ago, I happened to attend a social event hosted by Lance Uggla.
For those of you who haven’t heard of him, Lance is the founder and CEO of a business now known as IHS Markit, an S&P 500 constituent with a market capitalization of over $30 billion.
As expected of an individual who can scale up a business like that from literally a backyard shed, Lance is also a captivating storyteller.
After the formalities of the event were over, a group of us were chatting over beers. This is when Lance touched upon the topic of “hunters” and “farmers” in his company (which, back in the day, was still in the “Markit” incarnation).
For those who haven’t come across the definition before, it goes along the following lines:
Hunters are the “chasers”. These are the folks that go after big, high-profile opportunities. Seizing the initiative, they disappear into the wilderness, relentlessly stalking their prey until they come back with a trophy-like contract win or another milestone business achievement.
In contrast, farmers are the “nurturers”. Taking a long-term view, they focus on building trusting, lasting relationships. It may all seem boring and a bit pedestrian, but their efforts are ultimately rewarded with the loyalty of clients and other stakeholders.
Ultimately, the farmers achieve their goals as well – albeit in a far less exciting manner.
The point Lance was making was that both types of individuals were equally valuable to an organization, as long as you leave them alone and let them get on with things.
But is that really true?
Lions vs… Losers?
In today’s environment, farming is hardly flavour of the day.
Everyone lionizes star entrepreneurs who look to do things like “disrupt email” and “build the next Amazon”. Sometimes both at the same time – and ideally in the next year or two.
The same applies to corporate employment. Farming may be highly effective – but hunting certainly captivates all of the attention.
In a world focused on growth hacks, “failing fast” and hitting the next set of quarterly numbers, toiling away in a cubicle for months and years on end doesn’t have many fans. It doesn’t pay well either.
And incidentally, the whole setup creates somewhat of an image problem for the FIRE community.
By definition, planned financial independence is a process that farmer-type individuals are particularly suited to.
Plant the seeds. Tend your garden portfolio.
Make small tweaks – and watch the results compound over years and decades. Finally, slowly harvest the crops – and live off them. In other words, a sequence of events that will drive any hunter up the wall.
Is it really a surprise that both the media and the public at large are so keen to paint the FIRE community as a bunch of penny pinchers with boring lives and depressing spending habits?
I won’t like – hunting sure is exciting. As a matter of fact, it’s one of the reasons this self-identified farmer has stuck around investment banking for almost a decade. Few experiences compare to the thrill of a chase.
There is also no doubt that some hunters do well for themselves. As a category, however, they may well find it tougher to build wealth.
When you are always on the lookout for the next big thing, you don’t think about planting seeds with a 10+ year horizon in mind.
The whole predictability bit may well be the spoiler that puts a hunter off financial independence in the first place. Who wants to think about what life will be like when you are 60?!?
Then there’s the feedback loop. Hunters sometimes run the risk of losing steam without a positive feedback loop. In other words, they are not the type to keep buying VTSAX as the economy grinds through a multi-year downturn.
Which is fine – as long as you bounce back and make the next big kill. But one day, life smacks you in the face.
A new crop of hunters appears, literally eating your lunch. Even worse, your prey may have disappeared – and you haven’t got the ability to re-tool yourself.
But that doesn’t mean that us farmers have it any easier. Far from it.
The long-term perspective sure helps, but it’s just a part of the equation.
In addition to ceding the limelight (and some of the associated rewards) to hunters, farmers face a host of other challenges on the way to wealth.
They are slower off the starting line. They are also generally less aggressive – and slower to ditch a strategy that isn’t yielding results. There’s also a tendency to solve for minimizing losses rather than capturing maximum upside.
But the biggest one is not taking enough risks.
Early on, it’s not a problem. The start of a journey finds pretty much everyone with a blank slate. By default, progress means experimenting with things.
But then, a funny thing happens. People get comfortable with the progress they are making – and start to avoid what I call the uncomfortable unknown.
It’s not necessarily a losing strategy. After all, once you’ve got a good thing going, you shouldn’t just give up on it. But the moment you stop taking chances is the moment you slow yourself down.
In my career so far, I’ve changed jobs three times. Making each change was uncomfortable as hell – but every single moved paid off in spades.
Same goes for that time I’ve had an unsuccessful stab at entrepreneurship. Dove into my first real estate transaction. And uprooted my entire life (and that of my fiancé) to move to the US to go back to grad school.
In every single instance, my farmer brain cried for mercy and tried to talk me out of it. And to compensate for that natural handicap, I have always tried to force myself to take more risks than I’m comfortable with.
At the end of the day, your type is your type. You shouldn’t fight it and try to join a tribe that isn’t yours. Life just isn’t worth going through with that kind of cognitive dissonance.
Instead, embrace your type – but be aware of the shortcomings. You don’t want to be a farmer with nothing but a bunch of weeds in the proverbial garden.
And you certainly don’t want to be the hunter with a bunch of kills – and nothing to show for it.