Leaders sometimes hand out quips or one-liners to explain their actions or thinking. I would like to take this chance to pop everyone’s misconceptions regarding three of these lines. One is “We’re going after the low-hanging fruit,” the second is the myth of herding cats and the third is the proverbial “running up the flag to declare victory.”
My grandfather owned a nursery and orchard so I became “familiar” with picking apples in my youth. When your grandparents are farmers, you do a lot of manual labor as a kid and I’ve been told it builds character. I must have a lot of character if that’s the case…but I digress…
When I first heard someone talking about “picking the low-hanging fruit” it simply didn’t ring true with me. First off, the low hanging fruit is often not really ripe because it’s in the heaviest shade of the tree near the bottom. Second, when I picked apples, I learned quickly to start at the top of the tree and work your way down. The fruit was riper at the top and your basket got heavier as you picked more, so it made sense to work your way down. If you start with the low-hanging fruit you have to carry your ever-increasingly heavier basket up the tree, leaving you with the worst fruit and doing more work. The smart picker starts at the top and works down. Picking the low-hanging fruit is more work and the fruit is often really not ready for picking.
Myth busted. Picking the low-hanging fruit is not really the smartest way to go. Start at the top and work your way down…that’s the best course of action.
Someone commented recently that, “Getting everyone organized on this project is like herding cats.” I’m not a cat person but I chuckled at the line because I remembered that the best way to get cats moving in unison is to open a can of cat food and start walking. Rather than herd them, you simply have to lead them with food (an incentive). Herding cats is not the way to move them. Leading cats…that’s the ticket.
The third myth is one I hear from time-to-time: “Let’s quickly run up the flag and declare victory.” I am a military historian, (No kidding, I write books in this genre) and there’s a real good reason you don’t run up the flag and declare victory. First, victory is fleeting…it is fluid and often based on the moment in time. While you perceive a victory now, it may quickly be turned against you. You need to make sure the victory is indeed in place. Winning a war is much more important than winning a battle in most historical context. Unless it’s the final battle in a war, declaring victory may not have the meaning you think it does.
Also, when you run up the flag, you often incite the enemy to counterattack. You give them a goal, a visible objective. Moreover, you have told them where you are, allowing them to concentrate their force on that flag. Ultimately the planting of a flag to declare victory is the first step in the enemy mounting a counterattack to take your victory from you. Nothing inspires an enemy more than symbols (a flag) and thoughts of retribution/revenge.
Running the flag up quickly does sometimes inspire morale, but it also can make the troops wonder if you really know what you’re doing because the fight is still underway.
Myth refuted. Sometimes touting victory only encourages others to take you down or your own troops to question your sanity.
We all like tossing out one liners out there that make us seem like sages, but you have to think carefully about the real-world implications of such lines.