August comes around again, and there are ripe blackberries in the hedgerows. One of the things I was taught at an early age was to avoid picking berries that were low enough to be urinated on by animals. (Or humans for that matter.) So I have always regarded the “low hanging fruit” metaphor with some distaste.
In business, “low hanging fruit” sometimes refers to an easy and quick improvement that nobody has previously spotted.
Which is of course perfectly possible. A new perspective can often reveal new opportunities.
But often the so-called low hanging fruit were already obvious, so pointing them out just makes you sound as if you think you are smarter than everyone else. And if they haven’t already been harvested, there may be something you don’t know about. (The fallacy of eliminating things whose purpose you don’t understand is known as Chesterton’s Fence.)
And another thing about picking soft fruit. Fruit are not placed at random, each plant has a characteristic pattern. Many plants place the leaves above the fruit, thus you can often see more fruit when you look upwards from below. If you get into the habit of looking downwards for the low-hanging stuff, you will simply not see how much more bounty the plant has to offer.
A lot of best practices and checklists are based on the simple and obvious. Which is fine as far as it goes, but not very innovative, won’t take you from Best Practice to Next Practice.
So as I pointed out in my post on the Wisdom of the Iron Age, nobody should ever be satisfied with the low hanging fruit. Even if the low-hanging fruit hasn’t already been pissed upon, its only value should be to get us started, to feed us and motivate us as we build ladders, so we can reach the high-hanging fruit.
Rory Sutherland, Chesterton’s fence – and the idiots who rip it out (Spectator, 10 September 2016)
Wikipedia: Chesterton’s Fence
Updated 1 September 2019