Hard Makes Easy and Easy makes Hard

I am starting this post with a response to this posts title … that’s what she said.  Now that I got that off my chest I can elaborate on the actual title instead of reveling in my teen age psyche.  In my previous post, Starting from Nothing, I stated that easy things are done way more than harder things and implied that this is generally not a good thing.  I would like to explore my statement and implication in a bit more detail.  For the tl;dr crowd, the title sums up the next couple of paragraphs succinctly.

As an example, I’ll borrow from my work in the internet industry.  I can’t count the number of times I have heard “we’ll work on the low hanging fruit” during my career without ever discussing the VALUE of the low hanging fruit being worked on, which means the number of times is greater than 20 (or 21 if I’m in the shower)  I hear the phrase low hanging fruit so often that I am 100% convinced that every internet executive is a former or current orchard owner. Of course, there are times when picking low hanging fruit makes sense such as the first pass through the orchard where the probability of picking high quality fruit is high.  In internet parlance, when you are releasing new product into an untapped space with projected network effect hyper-growth that will completely bend the company growth curve … and make the world a better place.

Funny thing about the new internet product I just described is that the phrase “low hanging fruit” isn’t ever used during this phase of the product!  Most often, people are solving difficult problems and working incredibly hard in order to get their vision converted into reality, a reality which generally makes people’s lives (i.e. customer’s lives) easier.  More succinctly, hard work makes things easier for people or, even terser, hard makes easy. 

Getting back to our “low hanging fruit”, the phrase is generally used during secondary and ensuing phases of a product life cycle. Logically, the “low hanging fruit” would have been addressed in the initial product release and more difficult tasks that exceeded capacity would be pushed into subsequent releases.  In reality, the “low hanging fruit” is not very easy to pick.  An analogy I liked to use with my teams is strawberries.  I dare you to find a lower hanging fruit so they should be the easiest pickings being the lowest of the fruit.  From experience, I can tell you that picking strawberries is difficult and tiring work and if you don’t like strawberries (I know someone who doesn’t) ultimately of zero value.  Leaving the farm and returning to the open floor plan work area, “low hanging fruit” tasks are generally like picking strawberries, harder work than originally thought.  Because of this miscalculation in scope/effort, the work tends to not have enough capacity/investment which leads to sub-optimal solutions.  Sub-optimal solutions are expensive/difficult to maintain and, generally, lead to rising marginal costs, i.e the cost to maintain the solution increases over time.  More succinctly, choosing the easy path makes things more difficult for people in the future or, even terser, easy makes hard.

In summary, if you hear the phrase “low hanging fruit” as part of a prioritization argument, ask the person if the fruit is a strawberry.  Remember the hard work that went into creating the product that you are iterating and remember the value/joy that hard work generated.  Hard makes easy and Easy makes hard … that’s what she said.  Heh, still funny.




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