John Deere’s Pink Bat

Deere & Company was founded in 1837. Since its humble beginnings, it has grown into an international corporation that today employs approximately 56,000 people throughout the world.

A few years back, Deere hired me to design a coffee table book that would capture its rich history and more importantly, convey its core values. The title of the book was Genuine Values. I, along with the CEO and a few senior executives, built this idea around the following values: integrity, quality, commitment and innovation. We felt these words best reflected the core values exhibited by its founder and that have successfully guided Deere up to today.

In my new book, Pink Bat: Turning Problems Into Solutions, I share the John Deere story from a different perspective… from its very inception. It’s easy to talk about the after effects… the success story that followed. But when you realize this international corporation started when one young man saw a “problem” as a solution… the story is even more amazing.

Let me take you back 173 years: For U.S. farmers in the eastern states, a cast-iron plow worked fine. But for farmers who tried using it to cultivate crops in the rich Midwest soil, it was a disaster. In fact, attempting to cut through tough prairie ground with a cast-iron plow was problematic to say the least. Trying to use one in the sticky rich soil without it getting clogged was nearly impossible.

Many knowledgeable people (experts) focused on this problem. Perhaps that was the problem. The more they focused on it, the bigger it seemed to become. In time, most people and experts alike concluded it was too big… they accepted the “problem” for what it was and gave up.

Then a young blacksmith (an outsider named John Deere) moved to the Midwest from out east. He learned of this “problematic” situation. But he was a “Pink Bat” thinker… so instead of focusing on the “problems,” he focused on solutions instead. He tried many different plow concepts and while none of them were successful, he learned from each failure and refused to quit.

One day as he walked to work, a glint of sunlight reflected off an old discarded saw blade. To the sawmill, this old blade represented a worthless, worn out piece of steel… a problem. To young John Deere, it was a beautifully honed piece of smooth steel… a perfect solution. After pulling it from the junk pile, he took it to his shop and created a plow that worked great in the rich (previously considered problematic) Midwest soil. The rest, so to speak, is history.

History is filled with Pink Bat examples (unseen solutions mislabeled as problems). What’s more important is that today’s world is full of them, too. They surround us every day. Often they are mislabeled as problems… but they’re really solutions just waiting to be seen. Like John Deere, we are each capable of turning problems into solutions… the key is seeing things for what they are and what they aren’t… and using our imaginations to see them for what they can be.

This content is based on my newly released book: Pink Bat: Turning Problems Into Solutions, available at our store.

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