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Harvesting the tree

When starting a new project or program or enterprise, what advice do people give? Often they’ll say, “Start with the low-hanging fruit.”

Ironically – or maybe not – this highly contagious cliché was incubating right around the time that a much more structured planning methodology had crescendo’ed its way into the mainstream: our old friend, the SWOT Analysis.        

When was the first time you conducted a SWOT Analysis? If memory services, I first drew that iconic matrix, subdivided into quadrants labeled Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats way back in B-School at the University of Florida. It was all hypothetical at the time, of course, and probably executed in haste as a part of some insidious group project in an upper level management course.

SWOT

From time to time throughout my career, I have had the occasion (sometimes by choice, sometimes imposed) to SWOT my way through a business opportunity or dilemma. Each time, the exercise reminded me that opportunities are also dilemmas and dilemmas are opportunities and that it’s worth taking the time to do some serious pondering about both.

Now, on the second anniversary of starting my business, I've turned again to SWOT. I plotted the heck out of my efforts to date, the lessons learned, knowledge gained, market conditions and trends, and my effectiveness as the leader of my own destiny.

Then I added a step. After setting aside the matrix for a few days, I returned with fresh eyes to look for trends. Which quadrant had the most data? What information would someone else in my profession -- another artist, another entrepreneur, a client, an art critic -- expect to see there that isn't, and did that suggest blind spots of mine? What was I spending most of my time on and was it paying dividends?

That’s when I saw it. My little market basket of good intentions was filled almost completely with low-hanging fruit.

harvest the tree

The concept of low-hanging fruit suggests that quick and early success can come from leveraging assets within relatively easy reach. That’s exactly how I proceeded in the early months of my new enterprise: I networked with friends and colleagues, I began participating in a familiar marketplace (art festivals), I created new work using techniques honed over the years. The process worked, and my business took off.

Reaching up from the ground, however, can only get you so far. You have to climb if you want to get to the fruit at the top of the tree. As any grower will tell you, there’s a right and wrong way to ascend. There are natural openings in the canopy just as there are natural barriers. Some branches can support your weight; others can’t. Not every piece of fruit will be ripe along the way, and some will be rotten.

What’s the best way to harvest a fruit tree? Understand its strengths and weaknesses. Understand the opportunities and threats, both man-made and natural, that influence the orchard. Start with a whole-tree approach, and you’ll understand the fruit you’re picking and why you’re picking them.

How am I entering the third year of my business? By taking a long look at the orchard and the trees. As I move forward, absolutely I’ll continue to harvest from the lowest branches. With proper cultivation, they can bear fruit every season. But as I chose which fruit to pick, I’m becoming more mindful that I’m clearing a path upward.

Wanna geek out over the history of the SWOT Analysis? Check out this article.