Finding our collective ‘why’

View From the Paddock

Charters Towers beef producer, Emma Robinson

Charters Towers beef producer, Emma Robinson


What drives you to do what you do? A simple question, but one very few of us can answer.


What drives you to do what you do? A simple question but one, according to marketing guru Simon Sinek, very few of us can answer. 

Sinek has sold millions of books worldwide inspiring people to rethink what they do based on a better understanding of what drives them. This approach, says Sinek, is the difference in why some organisations or individuals succeed where others fail. 

Finding your ‘why’ is powerful, but Sinek stresses the real magic happens when your ‘why’ connects with the ‘why’ of others to inspire, amplify and take ideas to a new level. 

So what does this have to do with agriculture? Too often we’re adept at jumping to what we do, and how we do it without any clarity around the ‘why’.

The complex environmental, social and economic reach of agriculture means there’s an inherent necessity to understand the ‘why’ for ourselves and our businesses.

We can extend this further through our collective ‘why’, which can underpin our relevance and competitive capacity into the future. 

Central to the power of ‘why’ is the notion that “people don’t just buy what you do, but why you do it”. Nowhere is this more clearly illustrated than in the decisions consumers make about the food they eat.

Beef is no longer just beef, but is branded with a range of ‘adjectives’ – ethically raised, free range, organic, grass fed, grain fed, HGP free, antibiotic free, family farmed, as examples that go some of the way to communicating a higher value.

Importantly, when decisions feel right, consumers are willing to pay a premium. However when our practices fail to meet community and consumer expectations, when we fail to sell the ‘why’ the whole industry suffers, consumers don’t just change brands they go without or look to alternative sources of protein.

The more industrialised our food systems become the bigger the opportunity to manipulate, substitute, and exploit in the name of efficiency and profitability.

The daily spin of global news headlines – suggesting bribes paid to meat inspectors, water theft, food mislabeling illustrate the opportunity for shortcuts.

Greater regulation can go some of the way to rectifying the issues, but ultimately it’s about the ‘why’ that drives businesses to do what they do. 

Being clear on our collective ‘why’, can inspire new narratives about what it means to be part of Australian agriculture.

Historically our collective ‘why’ seems built on our have a go, salt of the earth, hardworking values – this may have held us in good stead, but times are a’changing.

There is increased scrutiny over what we do - how we use the land, how we treat animals, the inputs used – how we choose to respond to this scrutiny will depend on our clarity and connection to our ‘why’.

We know Australian agriculture can’t compete as a producer of cheap food. But quality food, food with integrity – ‘yes’ – ultimately this is more than simply standards and labels.

It comes down to an inherent belief and ability to communicate the value of what we do and why we do it. 

Having a collective ‘why’ can put brand Ag Australia ahead of the game, having the food products others seek to emulate and a shared motivation that drives opportunity and growth.

Our collective ‘why’ will influence the land management practices we adopt, our capacity for self-regulation and how we respond to changing consumer and community expectations.

Our ‘why’ will determine how we respond in a crisis, our capacity to build trust, innovate, collaborate and take a more cooperative approach on a whole range of shared issues. 

We need leaders who can inspire our collective ‘why’, taking responsibility for starting with the ‘why’ rather than jumping to what or how, and leaders who can say what they believe, rather than what they think people want to hear.

Most importantly, if we all take some responsibility to start with the ‘why’ and inspire others to do the same, great things become more possible.

 -Charters Towers beef producer, Emma Robinson


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