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  • Nathan Kirchner

The low hanging fruit is poisonous

This is something that probably... definitely... annoys me more than it should. Every time I hear the inevitable cry 'we should go for the low hanging fruit' I visually cringe, shudder & choke on my breath a little. Dramatic I know, but it has become a reflex. Sure there is some sense in focusing on something with low-effort, low-risk, relatively high-impact & high-returns. Sure this is what some people mean by this shorthand. Unfortunately I have found there is a often an inadvertent stifling, inhibiting or even catastrophically detrimental pathway unconsciously laid out in front of the effort - Beware! The low hanging fruit is poisonous

I've found that often low hanging fruit tend to end up being relatively scaled down, isolated, single process step targets – a.k.a. “Deriskification”, "Value Engineering", "Effort Rationalisation"... I am sure there is more of these amazing business buzz-words but I think you probably know where I am pointing. Now, just for the sake of clarity there is plenty of cases where this thinking, caution, common sense makes good sense & is appropriate. However, this thinking definitely creates a juxtaposition with trying to do something novel - innovation.

Aiming at low hanging fruit inherently directs the robotics effort towards Under Delivery & Workplace Rejection. We ”deriskify” the Business - Technological - People aspects of the imagined effort typically to the point where the add little/nothing to the business, the tech does little/nothing, and the people around the solution see little/nothing. This is often to minimise risks & avoid potentially spooking the workforce.

This all seems reasonable, and I have been in way too many conversations where this is where better minds than minds push to go... but, step back a bit. This creates a situation where the potential upside from conducting the effort is little/nothing. So even if we can drive the risks & spooky-ness of the effort below that we nearly always would be better doing nothing as there are costs involved in trying & no upside from having done so. The effort has rationalise down to a such a scaled down, isolated, & singular scope that is has been come pointless to do it. Perhaps the effort still goes ahead at the time, sure, but to prove / achieve / impact what?!?!

<the ubiquitous 'honest question'... well most commonly in this case; 'honest statement'> 'It does make sense to "deriskify" (etc) BUT I can definitely do it in such a way that my effort doesn't have those issues & creates impact'. 'Great! Pls tell me how!' is my reflex response. Unfortunately I had this conversation more than a few times without benefiting from that nugget of wisdom that would change my world. If you can do it, awesome & sorry for wasting you time on my words here so far. If you are interested in how I do it then read on!

Reduce risk - Yes, Reduce costs - Yes, Reduce unknown - Yep; I am on board with all of this stuff but I insist on giving efforts their best chance of success. This means that enough needs to be done / shown so that the value can be fairly appreciated. I have converged & sharpened 3 points over years of friction that when well balanced generally buys the space to do more with the effort. These 3 points to back very early stages of innovation efforts are:

1 The potential returns to the Business - Technology - People must be there

Impactful Innovation is the intersection of Business, People & Technology. Deep innovation is born from behaviourally & culturally synergetic cutting edge technology that is inherently integrated into our core undertakings. It must be clear that the effort does something for the business in terms of value capture and/or value creation (, the Technology must be sufficiently novel / special / innovative / non-obvious to create meaningful barriers to entry / 'me too' to give it fair chance to actually yield that advantage and/or competitive edge (, & It must be clear that the effort meaningfully gives a tangible benefit to the people (workforce, frontline, supervisors & exec) to imply demand & sustainability of adpotion will be there (

2 A Plus 5% must be there

A conceptual positioning of robotics solutions as the top apprentice that enables the other team members in general, makes everything smoother, and adds some unique contributions. I.e The Capabilities–Catalyst solution paradigm Vs the perhaps more traditional & workforce unpopular Remove–Improve paradigm (remove people with tech to improve the business bottomline). The outcome of the effort doesn't need 'to do the job' but it must be clear & very believable that it makes it a little bit easier to get it done & it must be clear by looking at it / engaging with it that this is the case. ( &

3 The effort must have a Zero Footprint

An innovation devise & deliver approach which seeks to minimise resistance to change by lowering the barrier of entry for deployment. Zero Footprint deployments require no special hardware, fittings, mounting, computing, equipment, software, certification, installation, etc. R&D demonstrators are constructed to tread so lightly that they leave zero footprints. It needs to be clear that there will be no impact whatsoever to the targeted business function even in the case of catastrophic failure of the effort outcome - it will simply & seamlessly go back to the way it used to be done without anyone really even noticing (

<the insight> As an Engineer I am thoroughly trained the step 1 is always to eliminate risks. From my experience it seems the business folk around me may get similar training. This low hanging fruit - business as usual - perspective seems to lead to the death by a thousand cuts of potentially valid ideas & opportunities. There is another way, don't fear change, understand what you really need to achieve, be cognisant of what gets people on the hook & what stops them from trying in the first place (, look out a different window, you have the roadmap, go! go! go!

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