Blog Post

The fallacy of the Swiss Army knife.

87 tools and 141 functions in a Swiss Army Knife no one would ever carry that around.

Hey gang,

Are you a generalist? Are you flexible? A quick learner? Master of all trades? Multi-tasker? Are you a Swiss Army Knife?

In 1891, Karl Elsener set out to manufacture a standardized, multi-use knife for the Swiss military. The idea is that the Swiss Army knife is the one tool that lets you do everything you might need to do when out in the field.

The knife featured a blade, reamer, can opener, and screwdriver, the latter of which was for field stripping a rifle. That was it—four tools on board. The soldier could cut stuff, open food, and clean his gun.

Since then, of course, designers have gone over the top, adding up to “87 tools and 141 functions” to “Swiss Army Knives” – and no one would ever carry that around.

By trying to be incredibly multifunctional, the tool became dysfunctional.

We, as people, are just the same. Early on, as I was growing up, the goal was multifunctional aptitudes. I wanted to know more things, drive more things, plant more things and master more things than anyone else.

It became the way I defined my self-worth! Farmers are natural multifunctional people by sheer necessity, and it is a wonderful, magical and beautiful thing – We are Renaissance men and women in the finest sense. We are useful people.

And it works until you grow your business beyond yourself. Now, I should pause briefly to say that many business owners have no desire to grow their businesses beyond themselves, and that’s OK. It’s a choice.

If you are determined to grow a business that exceeds your personal abilities, you must realize your Swiss Army knife of business skills has limits.

Here’s what that looks like:

  • Rather than me learning website coding, we hired Audra.
  • Rather than me planting all the corn, we have Farmer Matt.
  • Rather than me spend hours doing field scouting, we have our consultants provide a report weekly.
  • Rather than me building a ticketing platform, we use a focused, online ticketing provider.
  • Rather than me fly our drone during events, I trained Logan for that.
  • Rather than me taking a baking class, we have Miss Dee make the treats.
  • Rather than me designing corn mazes, we added Designer Dave as our artist.

It’s the fallacy of the Swiss Army knife.

There’s a temptation to believe in the “Grand Unification of Everything,” or in Lord of the Rings “One Ring to Rule Them All” or in marketing, “If I just use Facebook Ads, all my marketing worries go away.”

You need a Marketing Stack. Radio that sends people to your website, where you Pixel them from Facebook Ads, and captures their emails, then you send them a postcard asking them to “Text in To WIN!”

It takes a multi-pronged approach to marketing. Facebook posts alone won’t do it. Radio ads alone won’t do it. Newspaper ads – seriously? You didn’t think I was going to suggest EVER using newspaper ads, did you?!

You need an Attraction/Event Stack. Attractions, such as corn maze, Mega Slide, Gem Mining, and events, such as Strawberry Fest, Sunflower Festival, Red Hot Summer Chili Cookoff, and Fall Harvest create an ebb and flow to your customer traffic.

Sure, you may be open every day from June to November, but what is powering the wave of desire that kicks customers off the fence and entices them with something special, something exclusive, seasonal, or scarce. Are you suck in one season? Don’t need any more guests in October, but you want to keep growing? Consider restructuring your Attraction/Event Stack.

Finally, you need a Profit Stack. Sell admission tickets to the event, add-on merchandise, get a meal and a drink, take-home bakery products, wine-tasting, and apple-picking. With a fully developed Profit Stack, you can afford to pay for marketing because you know the true, full-stack value of a customer.

Consider this:

The more value you provide, the more dollars per guest you extract, the fewer people you need to convince, the fewer people you need to manage.

Maximizing your Attraction Stack & your Profit Stack create value by minimizing the cost of your Marketing Stack. If you don’t need to convince as many guests, you don’t need to spend as much on marketing.

Just as in creating a Profit, Attraction, and Marketing Stack, you must develop a Staff Stack that complements, not replicates, your skills.

It takes people with diverse skills to make agritourism work. You can wear all the hats for a while, but growth mandates a division of labor. You need key people to make good decisions without your involvement.

So, what are your “Four Tools Onboard?” Like the first Swiss Army knife that soldiers actually carried and used, what are the FOUR things you do better than anyone else?

If you try to learn every skill, you’ll waste all the time you should spend doing what you are inherently awesome at doing. Hiring well likely means hiring people who are unlike you.

So, how does your business ‘stack’ up? Where are your most significant “stack” struggles? In to what responsibilities have you been shoe-horning yourself instead of building your Staff Stack?

Don’t fall for the Swiss Army Knife’s fallacy, the alluring fallacy that more tools are the only thing that means more valuable. Mistrust claims of a “Grand Unification Theory that solves everything.” You cannot do it all; learn it all alone.

There are no single silver bullets, but you can create ‘stacks’ that can move your business forward together.

Let me know what you think and how your business ‘stacks’ up:-)

Have a great week,


IntriguedWe’re going to blow your mind with a Three-Part Webinar Workshop call Pricing Strategy Boot Camp coming March 11th with NAFDMA. It will be available afterward from Maize Quest, but you can participate LIVE with me starting March 11th.

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