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Pardon the interruption

Progressive Forage Editor Lynn Jaynes Published on 01 October 2018

I’m sorry to interrupt. Excuse me. Pardon the interruption.

A story is told of Rabbi Stephen Samuel Wise, who was asked to speak at an anti-Nazi meeting in Brooklyn, whereupon he received numerous threatening letters, stating he would be killed if he attended or sought to address the rally.

When Wise finally mounted the podium, he said, “I have been warned to stay away from this meeting under pain of being killed. If anyone is going to shoot me, let him do it now. I hate being interrupted.”

None of us like being interrupted, but we have to consider the question of whether interrupters are high communicators or whether they kick the knees out from under good communication. According to The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle, during a creative brainstorming session, interrupters are high communicators … but only then. He discusses at length the Allen Curve.

The Allen Curve is a graph that looks like an indigenous Australian boomerang with the “curve” in the bottom left corner of the graph. It was the result of a government research project. Thomas Allen was a young MIT professor during the Cold War. The government wanted to know why some teams were much more successful than others, such as two teams who tackled intercontinental ballistic missiles where one failed and the other succeeded.

Allen went to work researching different factors among teams that might influence the outcomes, things like: what were their IQs, where had they received their education, were they the same age, did they attain the same degrees, and what degree of experience did they have? He found only one significant variant (just one): the distance between their desks or workstations.

How could that be? It’s so anticlimactic. But he charted this with the Allen curve: At distances greater than 8 meters (26.2 feet), communication among teams fell dramatically, and space between desks less than 8 meters found team communications dramatically rising. When communications increased, projects were completed 32 percent faster.

We often say, “Time is money.” If that’s true, then 32 percent more efficiency is worth big bucks – anywhere, in the office as well as on the farm, ranch or dairy. “But farms don’t have desks, per se.” True. But the principle remains the same: Increased communication is the input, and efficiency (and money saved) is the output. (I could say here that we often give “lip service” to communication, but that’s just a bad pun and I’ll spare you the interruption.)

I was on a haying operation a few weeks ago in New Mexico (you’ll read their story in a future issue) and, as I was leaving, almost as an afterthought, the gentleman (who was tracking the harvest progress of 12,500 acres of alfalfa and orchardgrass) casually opened an app on his phone (created by his brother – the app, not the phone) showing every field, every yield, every haying operation performed or underway, every tractor, baler, rake and stacker and their progress.

Literally every bale was shown in real time. So the two brothers, their father or any crew manager could look at any time and know exactly what was happening and where. In addition, they were constantly calling and texting. It was done from their pickups, miles and acres apart, yet it was the same communication as having desks spaced no greater than 8 meters – communication was that constant. It had to be.

How else could you keep 17 large square balers, 17 small square balers, 17 mowers, 16 stackers, 26 rakes and 100 employees operating all summer long?

We (you and me) can benefit from Allen’s research and the New Mexico hay operation’s example. For those of us in milking parlors or ranch bunkhouses, pickups or tractor cabs, it behooves us to have more communication, more face-to-face interactions. It’s not a time-waster; it’s an efficiency gainer.

Just don’t confuse connections and interactions with interruptions. Interruptions are, for example: “Honey, where’s the Shredded Wheat?” when for 40 years it’s been in the very same cupboard, so if it isn’t there that means we’re out, deal with it; I’m in the middle of writing an editorial here. Some days I’m with Rabbi Wise – somebody just shoot me now.  end mark

Lynn Jaynes
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