Low-Hanging Fruit: A book review by Bob Morris

Low-HangingLow-Hanging Fruit: 77 Eye-Opening Ways to Improve Productivity and Profits
Jeremy Eden and Terri Long
Wiley (2014)

How to “get a good cash crop yield from business innovation”

Years ago, I helped a Fortune 50 company establish an electronic suggestion box for its intranet. Generous tax-paid bonuses would be awarded for ideas that reduce operating costs and increase productivity. All an employee needed to do was go online, sign in, and state the suggestion. One recent hire in the mail distribution center at corporate headquarters suggested that, except for an emergency, each next-business day delivery document or package be shipped only on Fridays. That simple suggestion saved the company about $800,000 the first year and offers an example of “low-hanging fruit” that can so easily be “harvested.”

According to Jeremy Eden and Terri Long, “To get a good cash crop yield from business innovation, leaders must have six elements in place. They must provide problem-solving skills, motivate employees [or as I prefer to describe it, inspire employees to motivate themselves], organize collaboration across units, make decisions quickly, build implementation skills, and create accountability to deliver hard-dollar benefits.”

Among the 77 chapters of material that Eden and Long provide, these were of greatest interest and value to me.

o Ask “Why?” Five Times to See the Real Problem (Chapter 3)
o Don’t Be Fooled by Misleading Metrics: Zero in on the Ugly and Rattle the Status Quo by Turning Metrics Upside Down (6)
o Use Brainstorming in a New Way: To Find Problems, Not Solutions (10)
o Stop Ignoring Your Introverts (13)
o Use a Checklist — It Works for Pilots and Brain Surgeons, and It Will Work for You! (20)
o Give People What They Need, Not What They Want (22)
o The Five Surprising Words That Keep a Good Executive from Being Great (30)
o Executive Motivators That Demotivate Everyone Else (32)
o Eliminate Corporate Whac-A-Mole (38)
o The One Monthly Meeting You Must Hold (46)
o The Devil’s in the Details: Track Every Idea, Every Dollar, Every Month (55)
o The Golden Rule: Withdraw and Replace Ideas That Don’t Increase Earnings (56)
o It’s Not What You Start, It’s What You Finish (61)
o Daniel Patrick Moynihan: “Everyone is Entitled to Their Opinion, but Not Their Own Facts” (64)
o The Obligation to Dissent (70)

Eden and Long discuss each of these and the other subjects that the chapter titles indicate, providing a wealth of information, insights, and counsel with regard to HOW to improve productivity and profits. Readers will also appreciate the insertion of relevant quotations throughout the narrative. Here’s the head note to Chapter 36, Rally the Troops, provided by Simon Sinek: “Average companies give their people something to work on. Innovative companies give their people something to work toward.” By the way, Sinek’s latest and best book, Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t, has just been published by Portfolio/The Penguin Group. I highly recommend it.

While re-reading this book prior to composing this brief commentary, I was again reminded of situations in which obvious business opportunities, the low-hanging fruit of potentiality, were harvested by ordinary people who were extraordinarily alert. For example:

o George de Mestral, a Swiss electrical engineer who came up with the idea for Velcro while removing burrs from his dog’s hair.

o Arthur Fry who co-invented Post-it so he could locate selections in his hymnal when singing in his church choir

o Mary Kay Ash who added a fragrance to leather softener lotion and sold it as hand cream, the basis of her global cosmetics firm

o Bette Nesmith Graham was an amateur painter who returned to work as an executive secretary, applied gesso with a paintbrush to correct her typing errors, and “mistakes out” became Liquid Paper

They suggest to me that almost anyone who overcomes what I call “the invisibility of the obvious” can produce an abundant harvest in the vineyards of free enterprise. I agree with Jeremy Eden and Terri Long that, whatever their size and nature may be, all organizations have almost unlimited opportunities for improvement of what is done and how it is done.

* * *

More a quibble than a complaint, this book has no index. I hope one will be added if and when there is a second edition.

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