The Greatest Business Myth: Low-Hanging Fruit

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TreeHow many times have we heard the phrase, “First, we’ll go after the low-hanging fruit”.  Arrrgh.  It’s a big mistake.  Do not go after the low hanging fruit.  Two reasons jump out.

First:  Low-hanging fruit does not exist.  The mere phrase implies that there are certain things that are easy to do.  That there are goals or thresholds, which are easily achieved.  I’ll do that, no sweat.  Wrong!  All the low-hanging fruit was picked long ago, if it ever even existed.  Could have been during the last layoff or the latest CRR update or the TQM phase or when the new CEO arrived.  It doesn’t matter when or under what mantra.  Just the mention of low-hanging fruit sets unrealistic expectations that there are easy and simple things to do.

Second:  The low-hanging fruit implies which things we should do first.  That is, the fruit that is easiest to reach should be picked first.  Not so.  Often, the first things that must be done are the most difficult. Quick wins can be good but if they are at the expense of important wins, then we are not making progress.  Ask any fruit picker, they will routinely begin picking at the top of the tree,where the fruit is hard to reach but it has been exposed to the most sunlight and is usually the ripest. That’s what they pick first. It makes sense to pick the low-hanging fruit last, since it requires more time to ripen

What do we really know about low-hanging fruit that can impact the organization?  On the positive side, we might walk by the low-hanging fruit every day and ignore it.  Once picked, it shows that change is about to happen.  Organizational low-hanging fruit can include simple things like fixing something that’s been broken for a long time.  When fixed, everyone notices the change.  But that “pick” needs to be followed up by more significant change.  Always choosing the easiest thing to do can be seen negatively too. Sometimes it makes sense to go for harder options that take longer and where the effort could have a big payoff.

Selecting the easiest targets with the least amount of effort might get things started but may not amount to much. And, unless you live on an orchard, your encounters with real low-hanging fruit don’t actually come very often.  So before you start talking about low-hanging fruit, remember it may not be the easiest or the right thing to do.



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