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Thursday, December 31, 2015

Low-hanging fruit: A starting point or a block?

In honor of the upcoming new year and the tradition of setting goals and resolutions, I decided to blog on a concept has been rolling around in my mind for a while.  I think it is appropriate to determine what the purpose of low-hanging fruit we are going after in this context.  Here goes:

Dictionary.com defines low-hanging fruit as:

  • a course of action that can be undertaken quickly and easily as part of a wider range of changes or solutions to a problem.
I've heard/seen this phrase used in multiple context.  One winter I heard Cardinals management talking about there off-season efforts to build a winning team for the next year.   The phrase "low-hanging fruit" was used to describe their initial efforts.   For impatient fans it appeared that management was rewarding their loyalty by going after the inexpensive, easy to sign, and apparently
mediocre talent at the expense of trading for/signing the greater impact, harder to get players.  It appeared as if the front office was letting possible free agents/trades go by under their nose, while they picked up questionable help.

In my own personal life and from what I've seen in others, going after low-hanging fruit can serve one of two purposes:
  • It can be a way to ramp up, to gear up, to get in the spirit of or to build momentum towards accomplishing a larger goal or a circumstance.
    • When working on a large project at work, sometimes working on the most difficult part of the it can cause discouragement.  Working on and/or solving a smaller part of the puzzle can give momentum or ideas on how to proceed on the larger piece(s).  
    • When cleaning around the house, cleaning out one room at a time or even one portion of one room at a time can make the job seem less intractable.
    • When processing a major loss (such as a death), it can simply to difficult to decompress the whole loss at once.  Sometimes, it helps just to deal with the aspects of it immediately in front of you rather than get paralyzed dealing with the whole ramifications of the loss.
  • It can be a way to avoid dealing with the larger goal or circumstance.
    • Denial - If you are focused on some aspect of the goal or circumstance, then you can pretend to yourself that you are dealing with the problem.  After all, "you are making progress" or so you tell yourself.
      • Paying on time.  Having a 12 month interest free loan and making the minimum payment for the first 10 months, telling yourself that you are going to pay it off in full before the end of the year.  Sure you are making some progress, but you still have most of the bill to pay off.
      • Working on the perfect eulogy, when you haven't picked the mortuary or burial location.  Words are helpful in facing a death, but they don't create the same finality in your mind as discussing where to hold a funeral or bury the body of your loved one.
    • Avoidance - Picking a route to a goal that doesn't fit or explanation that doesn't make sense.  In other words, creating a diversion or to give the appearance of facing what you need to.
      • In dieting this might take the shape of switching to diet soda while not changing your larger eating habits.  Making the small switch will not by itself lead to the larger goal.
      • In counseling, an example might take the shape of griping about a new friend when you have been dealing with the pain/guilt of a close relative for a long time.  While problems with your friendship probably are causing you some consternation, it really isn't addressing the deeper hurt you are facing.

Sometimes it is hard to know whether you are addressing a goal or issue one step at a team, easing into it or you are just throwing out obstacles to dealing with what you need to.  Sometimes, this takes reflection.  Sometimes this takes a close friend to determine.   Sometimes, the difference is so subtle that it can take a trained professional to spot.  Either way, it is best to figure out early on.

Just some thoughts for the day.  Hope this helps someone.

Rich

(Originally written 12/31/15, but still hold true today)