Be a Sponge: Are You a Farmer or an MBA? | Darren LaCroix

Be a Sponge: Are You a Farmer or an MBA?

By Darren LaCroix | Master Public Speaking

If we pay attention, it is amazing the lessons we learn along the way and how we take the important lessons with us for a lifetime if we truly internalize them. Sometimes we have to learn things over and over again until we finally get it. It’s crazy I know, but I hope you will agree with me. Some lessons are planted so deeply that we just need to be reminded of them from time to time. Even in bad situations, maybe especially in bad situations, there are truly life changing gifts if we look.

Right when I invested in the Subway Franchise I was very excited. I had visions of owning and running multiple stores. You see, back in the early 90’s Subway was an up and coming Franchise in Massachusetts where I lived. It actually took hold in the Western part of the state and was growing east towards Boston. I lived in Auburn, right smack dab in the middle of the state. There were none in my town at the time. The closest one was in Spencer, which was a thirty-minute drive away. While I was in business school studying finance and marketing, I had learned about the franchise from my high school buddies who went to college in the western part of the state and worked at one. I was ahead of the curve! I had the inside scoop, in my mind. (Why do things that only happen in our mind motivate us so much?)

One of the first things that happens after you invest, at that time $60,0000, in a franchise is that they train you. At Subway this meant you went to USMC, University of Subway Milford Connecticut at headquarters where it started. It was public knowledge and in their franchise marketing material that they owned about 5000 stores and had a 98% success rate I think. I don’t remember word-for-word as it was over two decades ago what they said, but I remember it struck me. During one of the classes we were asked the question, “Are you farmer or an MBA?” What? What the heck are you talking about? I was curious so I sat up in my chair and leaned in.

They went on to explain that studying the numbers of all of their stores they noticed the difference between the most successful franchisees and the not-so-successful franchisees. Basically I learned the most successful franchisees in the system were people who were formally farmers. They understood the ethics of hard work and they knew that they didn’t know how to run a sub shop. So they invested in the system and followed it explicitly.

People who were MBAs looked at it differently. They invested in the same system and immediately disagreed or even argued with the system. A system that has 5000 stores operating. I’m no scientist, but that is a pretty good sample size. Though I did not have an MBA I was fresh out of business school with a degree in finance and marketing. I said I was committed and following the system, but inside I thought I knew better. It was embarrassing to see now how my ego made my life more frustrating and I was a jerk at times to the people in charge of my area from the company. I argued about advertising, food cost and compliance issues. Wow, having misguided enthusiasm and ego can really add to your own life’s challenges.

In retrospect, I can see now that I was such a big part of my own problem. At the time I did not want to admit it. In fact it took me years to see the truth. I believe the MBAs could have been the most successful if they committed to the system for a year and then considered their own ideas. I see now that the challenge is not giving a proven process a chance. Book smart is not bad, but real-life application of those smarts is truly where wisdom comes from. Thinking we know better without the actual experience is dangerous.

Keep in mind that this is a metaphor. I’m sure there are exceptions on both sides, but look at the idea. It is real and it is important. I’m forever thankful for learning that lesson, though it took me years to fully internalize it. If you are to learn something new are you truly open or do you believe more in your perceptions before you have any experience in that world?

To be clear, I’m not saying to have completely blind faith or go against your values. I am saying that if you truly wish to learn a new skill or succeed in a new area, we have to be willing to commit to a process and be uncomfortable at times and experience new ideas from a new perspective.

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Stage Time, Stage Time, Stage Time,

Darren LaCroix, AS, CSP
World Champion of Public Speaking

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