The Myth of Low-Hang­ing Fruit

Why seem­ingly easy re­wards take hard work

Inc. (USA) - - INNOVATE -

will yield low-hang­ing fruit is al­most al­ways an ad­mis­sion that you have lit­tle in­sight about what you’re set­ting out to do. And any es­ti­mate of how much work it’ll take to do some­thing you’ve never tried be­fore is likely to be off by de­grees of mag­ni­tude.

What’s worse is when you load up these ex­pec­ta­tions on em­ploy­ees or new hires and as­sume they’ll meet them all, quickly. You’re ba­si­cally set­ting them up to fail.

We re­cently found our­selves in this very po­si­tion. We hired some­one for the first time to run busi­ness de­vel­op­ment at Base­camp. We fig­ured we would make a few calls, quickly line up a few part­ner­ships, and see the re­sults pour in. Since we’d never had any­one fo­cus on this area pre­vi­ously, we counted on there be­ing a load of trea­sure just inches be­neath the sur­face. How hard could it be, right? Turns out, we’ve had to do quite a lot more dig­ging than we re­al­ized to un­earth the gold. In fact, we’re still look­ing!

The same thing hap­pened when we de­cided to be­gin an email drip cam­paign—to in­crease con­ver­sions of Base­camp trial cus­tomers to pay­ing ones—which we’d never at­tempted be­fore. Pre­vi­ously, we had been send­ing users an email when they signed up, and noth­ing much after that. So we de­cided that send­ing a few more fol­low-up emails over the next sev­eral days might quickly move the con­ver­sion num­bers north. Low-hang­ing fruit, right?


Cer­tainly, we can move the num­bers. And we’ve al­ready learned a ton from these new drip cam­paigns. But the idea that you’ll in­stantly move nee­dles be­cause you’ve never tried to move them un­til now is, well, delu­sional. Some­times you get lucky and things are as easy as you had imag­ined, but that’s rarely the case. Most con­ver­sion work, most busi­ness- de­vel­op­ment work, most sales work is a grind—a lot of ef­fort for a lit­tle move­ment. You pile those lit­tle move­ments into a big one even­tu­ally, but that fruit is way up at the top of the tree.

So the next time you call some­one’s job easy— or tell an em­ployee to go pick some low-hang­ing fruit—stop your­self. Re­spect the work that you’ve never done be­fore. Re­mind your­self that other peo­ple’s jobs aren’t so sim­ple. Re­sults rarely come with­out ef­fort. If mo­men­tum is on your side, what is hard can mas­quer­ade as easy, but never for­get that not hav­ing done some­thing be­fore doesn’t make it easy. It usu­ally makes it hard. BET YOU have mut­tered or heard from some­one else in your of­fice at least one of these sugges­tions:

“We’ve never had any­one in busi­ness de­vel­op­ment, so there must be a ton of low-hang­ing fruit she can go after with just a lit­tle bit of ef­fort.”

“We’ve never done any so­cial me­dia out­reach, so imag­ine how much new traf­fic”—low-hang­ing fruit—“we’ll get if we just start tweet­ing stuff out.”

“We’ve never fol­lowed up with cus­tomers who can­cel to bet­ter un­der­stand why they left, so I’m cer­tain there’s plenty of low-hang­ing fruit to be had if we do those in­ter­views.”

I’ll con­fess I’m def­i­nitely guilty of hav­ing thought in these terms. Why wouldn’t I? By def­i­ni­tion, pur­su­ing low-hang­ing fruit should be a no- seized. Lit­tle sweat, all re­ward!

The prob­lem, as I’ve learned over time, is that the no­tion of low-hang­ing fruit is flawed. We as­sume that pick­ing it will be easy only be­cause we’ve never tried to do it be­fore. You think you know, but ac­tu­ally you don’t. In my mind, declar­ing that an un­fa­mil­iar task

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