"Brainstorming is like a food fight; problem solving is like a master cooking class."
Low-Hanging Fruit: 77 Eye-Opening Ways to Improve Productivity and Profits professes to focus on activities that increase productivity and profits, but I would argue these ideas lend themselves to driving engagement and making our workplaces more interesting places to work. The book offers 77 ways to action the low-hanging fruit (read: focus on simply and concisely solving problems) in our organizations. Each of the 77 actions is described in less than two full pages and organized into seven parts. The reader can jump in at any point in the book or follow the chronological flow that mirrors the evolution of developing a culture that supports this type of thinking beginning with identifying the problem, solving it, motivating our teams to do the work, helping our teams to support their ideas, holding each other accountable, finding time to focus on making changes and selling the whole idea to those who are not already on board!
This book advocates for the implementation of practical, right in front of your eyes ideas that will eliminate inefficient processes that are taking value out of our organizations. The book opens with the analogy of our overstuffed suitcase. Even though it looks full and there does not appear to be any room to jam more clothes in, “air” and lots of it is taking up space. If only that air weren’t there, I would be able to find room for my flip flops and the new leadership book I plan to read on my vacation! Now think of that air becoming gritty, annoying, red sand. There is no way any of us would consider allowing that dirt to take up room in our suitcases. The first step in driving the changes Jeremy Eden and Terri Long advocate is actively looking for those processes that are filling the cracks in our organizations and preventing us from being as successful as we could be.
Big Things Come in Small Packages
"I don't look to jump over 7 foot bars. I look around for 1 foot bars that I can step over."
Looking for that one, magnificent, once in a life time opportunity that is going to catapult your organization to Apple-like success is pretty hard to find. However, identifying smaller, more manageable, everyday opportunities is a million times easier. Think of it like walking along the same path every day with your six year old to school. I just bet that everyday something new catches your child’s attention. Week by week and month by month, the two of you find new things along the path to talk about. As the school year progresses from start to finish, I also suspect the time you take to get there may have become a little less. Was that a shortcut you just found?
Losing sight of the forest for all the trees
"As he [Eisenhower] said 'What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important."
How often do you arrive at the office and become lost in your inbox or pulled into your third meeting on a project that isn’t going anywhere quickly, never really accomplishing what you set out to do that day? I am embarrassed to say I can count the times more often than I would like. Eden and Long provide a very disheartening statistic: Most, not some, not a few, executives spend at least 25 percent of their time on activities they feel are urgent, but that they recognize may not be important to growing the business. Ouch! Fortunately, the authors offer the reader a few suggestions to reduce that percentage just a little. My favorite is to replace agendas with game plans! Game plans require us to plan ahead, understand the critical actions that need to occur within the meeting and walk away with clear next steps. Game plans also dictate just exactly how much time we should be spending on each agenda item. My second, almost tied with my first favorite: Ban meeting tourists!! If they can’t help you solve the problem, what are they doing in the meeting? They are just like that red sand in your suitcase – taking up space and getting in the way.
Stuck between a rock and a hard place?
"If you feel busy, take on even more important work."
Yep. You did read that correctly! Remember what it feels like when you are wrapping up things at work before heading out of the office for a two week vacation on a deserted beach – with no cell service? It is absolutely amazing how quickly tasks that seemed important two weeks ago no longer make it on the list. Our authors call it the “Squeeze Play”. Truly important, drive your business forward work will squeeze out urgent but unimportant work. Fancy that. If you do decide to pick up this book, check out Chapter 77: Mom Should Have Said, “Don’t Always Do Your Best!” Have you ever spent more time than was needed on a project? Yes, the work was outstanding, but chances are the extra few hours of effort you put forward didn’t change the outcome. Ask yourself this question – am I providing more value than my customer (boss, colleague, spouse… nope. That was one step too far! Scratch that one from the list) is willing to pay (time, dollars or resources) for? Last quote, I promise: “While you are doing the best job unnecessarily, an important task needs you!”
There really are 77 ideas in this book and every single one of them is actionable. Some ideas are new and innovative, but equally as many are just common sense and lying in wait right in front of our eyes. I think the authors may have referred to these ideas as eye opening because we likely take many of them for granted. However, if you are looking for a turnkey, step by step manual, reader be warned. These are just ideas—you need to provide the context and bring these ideas to life.