Friday, September 14, 2007

Low Hanging Fruit

In my last post - The Five Year Plan - I wrote about the effort required to change a company culture and create a real innovative organization. One of my readers left a post basically agreeing that it can be time consuming to change the culture and suggesting that a firm spend its early efforts focus on "Low Hanging Fruit". I don't necessarily disagree, but thought I would offer a counterpoint to a focus on low hanging fruit as an initial strategy for innovation.

There are at least three reasons why focusing on low hanging fruit can be a problem for an innovation team. First, low hanging fruit is usually somewhat obvious. If you attack a lot of problems or opportunities that others could have done if they only found the time, then the organization will ask if your initiative is really valuable, since you are only implementing ideas that have already existed. Second, if there is a lot of "low hanging fruit" - and there usually isn't - that says a lot about the organization. What motivated manager leaves a lot of good ideas on the table? There may be some easily identifiable ideas that can be quickly implemented, but I'll suggest to you that you'll run out of those fairly quickly.

Now, if you've been lucky enough to select and implement these simple ideas that have been just lying there for the taking, you've probably created a few enemies along the way, since you've either: 1) demonstrated another manager's lack of insight and/or talent or 2) taken an idea that they were going to pursue. Additionally, if you can implement a lot of ideas that are very simple to identify and bring to market, you've not asked for the firm to commit any resources, and you are probably implementing very incremental ideas.

This last point leads to the problem of expectations. Once you've implemented the easy ones, if there are any, then your pipeline is empty. You've demonstrated the capability of implementing simple ideas but you've not created anything new, nor have you prepared the organization for the challenge of creating and implementing more sophisticated ideas that will take longer and cause more change. In fact, what you've done so far is to demonstrate that innovation is about choosing very easy ideas to implement that don't seem to cost much or change the organization. So, the management team will have some concerns when you come to them, eight to twelve months into the program, and ask for more people and more resources in order to really implement innovation as a consistent capability. You'll not have a choice at that point, since a lot of the low hanging fruit will be gone, or taken off the table by other managers. Yet you've never set an expectation of investment or cost, never built a process or a team.

I think it's important to select a few ideas that are "low hanging fruit" to build credibility early, but you need to set the expectations and understand the strategic intent of the senior executives if you want to create a longer term capability. Any individual or consultant can go into just about any firm and find three or four ideas to implement quickly - that's not really a challenge. The challenge will arise when the "low hanging fruit" is gone, and you have to change the managements' expectations about investment and return.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 4:58 AM

9 Comments:

Blogger Grant said...

Jeffery

I agree with all you said. I was working for a company that, as a result of a major restructure, bought the R&D arm into much closer collaboration with manufacturing and sales. A "new" innovation process was setup and in its 1st year required to deliver projects with an NPV of $100m.

Only by plucking the low hanging fruit could they succeed however, the consequences of this success was in the 2nd year all parts of the organization had to rethink what was actually meant by "deliver" and "value". Senior management realized that innovation was not only coming up with great ideas but getting those ideas those ideas to the market was much harder.

3:26 PM  
Blogger KK Aw said...

Jeffery,

In addition to what you have said, low hanging fruits may not have sufficient impact on the organization for it to be taken seriously, effectively putting the team effort in the same mind set. Besides, going after low hang fruit is diverting the resources (usually limited) from the "real" issues.

4:15 PM  
Anonymous mats said...

Let us say you have a innovative organization open for initiatives, also the radical big ideas "the high hanging fruits". For every idea there is a demand of resources for it to be made a reality -an innovation. Actions has to be made to put an idea to life. If one initiative is the whole fruit tree, the actions easiest to make a reality with the resources you have at hand on the way to make the idea a reality is the low hanging fruits. I think when leading innovation you have to encourage your employees to pick these low hanging fruits. This can encourage others to also put resources into making the idea a reality, if these fruits show some of the ideas potential. Without this initiative from a single employee the idea will not get the momentum it needs to catch speed and maybe become a reality. What I am saying is that low hanging fruits should be seen as actions you have to perform to reach the higher hanging ones and finally make radical change.

11:52 AM  
Anonymous mats said...

big visions from the single employee, small actions to get momentum.

11:53 AM  
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