Picking the low hanging fruit (or harvesting the easy seeds)

Yesterday as I was carrying a new set of car floor mats into the house they brushed against a small flower that had recently died due to the onset of winter, but which had not yet released its seeds. A handful of the seeds became stuck to one of the mats, leaving me with the task of trying to remove them.

Some of the seeds were sitting just on the surface, making them easy to pick off using fingers alone. Others however were deeply engrained in the pile, calling for the use of a suitable picking tool (I found a hem picker from a sewing kit worked quite well).

A photograph of the seeds being harvested from the mat.
Seed picking

My initial approach was to remove the easy seeds first; however due to my relatively thick fingers, this resulted in pushing the surrounding seeds deeper into the carpet.

I then decided to use the picking tool on each seed individually, lifting them to the surface and removing them one at a time. This quickly became a tedious job, causing me to readjust the process before finally settling on the technique of lifting the seeds to the surface, and subsequently harvesting them, in small batches.

Whilst carrying out this job, my mind wandered to a phrase I have heard used several times at work, mainly by organisational leaders: “let’s focus on the low hanging fruit”.

The sentiment of this seemed quite logical at the time so, other than wincing at the sound of another phrase suitable for inclusion in a game of buzzword bingo, I thought nothing more on the subject.

My experience with picking seeds out of a carpet however has caused me to rethink this concept. Like the surrounding seeds that became deeper entwined even by my slender fingers, are organisations that focus on the easy pickings actually making their next, possibly more lucrative targets, more difficult to achieve?

I can imagine that an organisation which constantly goes after the low hanging fruit will never built sufficient capability to create a truly innovative product or service. Conversely however, an organisation that is constantly building capability, akin to lifting all the seeds to the surface prior to carrying out a single harvest, may never actually achieve anything.

In truth, I believe that the correct strategy for any particular organisation would be unique and based on factors such as the relative sizes of the seeds, fingers, and picking tool, the surface area of the carpet, and the depth of the pile (to stretch the analogy perhaps beyond its limit).

One thing is for certain though, this winning strategy could not be expressed in such simplistic terms as “picking the low hanging fruit”.