New Renaissance

My canola colleague and friend Rick Taillieu, manager of grower relations and extension with Alberta Canola, sometimes sends me lyrics from The Tragically Hip songs that fit with whatever is going on that day. Here’s a line for the times from “Three Pistols”, a song from the Hip’s 1991 Road Apples album: “Bring on a brand new renaissance, ‘cause I think I’m ready.”

Over the past few months, I’ve heard, as a message of inspiration and hope, that the bubonic plague in Europe from 1347 to 1350 inspired the Renaissance – a period of exceptional creativity. One glitch in this historical analogy for inspiration and hope is that the Renaissance wasn’t an instant response. The re-birth period lasted 300 years and one of its poster boys, Leonardo da Vinci, who painted the Mona Lisa and envisioned the helicopter, wasn’t born until a century after the plague. The good news is that we don’t need the genius of da Vinci to have our own new renaissances.

David Kohl, professor emeritus in agricultural and applied economics at Virginia Tech, made a COVID-themed presentation during Ag In Motion’s virtual Discovery Plus conference in July. He gave pointers on how to manage through this “black swan cycle”. The black swan symbolizes an unpredictable event with potentially severe consequences. As Kohl phrased it, the dirty bird splash down that is COVID-19 has put the “global economy on life support.” It has brought deglobalization, business failures, job losses and general frustration, confusion and anxiety. He reminds us that it’s “OK to feel a loss” while trying to figure out where to turn next.

At another virtual COVID-era conference, Angela Duckworth, a psychologist who created the Character Lab (, described a common characteristic of people who find a way to succeed – and that’s “grit”. Character Lab is all about building grit in ourselves and our children, and has playbooks to “cultivate strengths of heart, mind and will”. In one article, contributor Don Moore has a message about confidence that I think is helpful:

“Don’t assume that more confidence is always better. Both overconfidence and under-confidence are errors. Do seek out accurate information about risks and opportunities. Use that information to estimate the likelihood of different possible futures, then reflect on your particular tastes and values. Nobody can predict the future, but reason and self-awareness can empower you to take risks wisely.”

At the end of Duckworth’s presentation, she left us with this question: “What is the most valuable thing discovered through the pandemic?”

David Kohl’s business IQ management checklist will help farmers dig into Duckworth’s question and find answers that could improve your farming grit. The business IQ checklist has 15 points. (I will post the slide with the complete checklist in the Editor’s Update section at Point 1 is to “know your cost of production”. You get three points if you have your cost of production “written” out, two points if it’s “in your head” and one point if you have “no idea”. Point 11 is “modest lifestyle habits” – with three points for “yes”. Point 15 is attitude – three points for “proactive”, two points for “reactive” and one point for “indifferent”. An overall score of 35 or more is what you want.

Do you have a proactive attitude toward your COVID-19 renaissance? There are commonplace business tools that can “empower you to take risks wisely”, such as good knowledge of costs of production, and marketing plans that use those cost profiles to recognize and act on profitable sales opportunities. A proactive attitude also includes some study of trends and potential new opportunities to improve cash flow.

I’m just brainstorming here, but do you see opportunities in COVID-19-driven demand for holiday experiences that don’t require planes and hotels, for more direct-to-home delivery of farm fresh food, and for communication and commerce technology that might make global trade relationships more personal?

“Three Pistols” is actually about Canadian painter Tom Thomson, now considered a renaissance man but who, at that time, was just a painter with his own style and a drive to capture the essence of Canada’s landscape in his own way. That is perhaps all we can ask of ourselves. Be ready for our own new renaissance. Have a written plan for our businesses. Recognize our own style and vision. Be confident, but not overconfident. Get help to build grit. Take this re-birth opportunity to re-set expectations, reflect on what we really want and set in place a few new steps to get there.