Jargon of the Day – ‘Low Hanging Fruit’
Do the terms ‘touch base with’, ‘synergize’, ‘core competency’, ‘ideate’ etc. make you squirm with agony? Ever felt your blood boil while waiting through a long managerial sermon utterly devoid of meaning? Do not despair. I am proud to introduce a randomly updated column driven by (err..) a strategic imperative to take a deep dive into the most obnoxiously abused management jargon, and resurface with actionable insights that’ll help you achieve better outcomes with clients and co-workers.
My first target is a phrase, which when used in a presentation, will make gullible clients salivate and jump in their seats with excitement before slowly falling into a swoon. Appreciation mails are bound to clog your inbox. Any client qualms about signing that contract will be dispelled. Subordinates will look up to you in awestruck admiration for the rest of their careers. It is that blue-eyed boy of managerial clichés, beloved of managers, consultants, and Sir Isaac Newton – low hanging fruit.
The Low hanging fruit: (noun-phrase): Once used to denote an easily achievable goal or target, this humble phrase has gone on to have a wildly successful career by dint of its versatility. It now has a host of connotations, many of which have nothing to do with the original phrase.
E.g 1: In Mock CAT 7, I opened the DI section first and saw a couple of easy sums. I straightaway picked up the low hanging fruit.
E.g 2: The bartender says Kingfisher Strong is not available. Let’s go for Haywards- the low hanging fruit.
E.g 3: Hey, today’s match against Bangladesh is a low hanging fruit for Tendulkar.
E.g 4: Yaar, I am invincible in badminton…..that’s my low hanging fruit.
Usually the communication process goes like this:
With Low Hanging Fruit however, it goes like this:
Analysis of Historical Data
To study the long and illustrious history of ‘low hanging fruit’, I’m using Google N-gram viewer – for the uninitiated, it graphs the occurrence of word and phrase patterns over a period of time. The sample is drawn from a corpus of English Books defined here. Searching for low-hanging fruit returns the following graph-
Low hanging fruits did not exist until the late 1890s.
The obnoxious term made a beginning just around the time the first MBA courses were beginning to appear in the world (see here) and made steady progress until the 1920s.
Alas, the good times came to a jarring end in the 1930s. The 1930s was rough on everyone. Especially business types, MBAs and low hanging fruits. Financial markets were battered, entire industries were gutted and smooth-talking CEOs were cut down to size. A manager with his ass perennially on the line is also one who’s disinclined to making extravagant remarks.
In the 1940’s, mankind was steeped in the most apocalyptic war since the beginning of time. THIS was when the threat of subjugation to a Nazi Germany and an Imperialist Japan hung like a pall of horror over the entire free world. Winning this war required steely resolve and military might, no doubt. But it also required crispness, brutal honesty and curtness in conversations. Military conversations have little time for beating around the bush. Imagine an Allied soldier suggesting, “Let’s capture the beach of Normandy first. It’s the low hanging fruit. Then we can optimize our ….blah blah blah”. This soldier would have been shot dead by his own men.
Over the next 30 years, low hanging fruits tried desperately to stage comebacks, but they were thwarted repeatedly and emphatically by alert journalists and watchful citizens.
Since 1980, with financial deregulation and an explosion in the popularity of the MBA (see graphs below) it has enjoyed a stunning renaissance, and is currently on a ruthless march towards the top of the jargon ladder.
Take a look at the number of applications for Harvard’s MBA program below:
And now, observe, ponder and reflect upon the number of graduates from Tuck, Dartmouth, since its inception:
The trend in MBA applications and graduates over the last few decades at the above colleges correlates strongly with the trend in the usage of ‘low hanging fruit’ over 1900-2000. This can mean only one thing.
It proves that Low hanging fruit is a piece of managerial jargon invented by MBAs in America, and copied shamelessly by their clumsy counterparts everywhere in the world.
– Shyam Sunder Ramakrishnan
(Shyam Sunder Ramakrishnan is amongst the rare breed at an IIM whose variety of talents stretch beyond what is considered as normal. Ranker, Musician, Sportsman, Writer and an extra-ordinary friend – Shyam Sunder Ramakrishnan is all this and more rolled into one. InsideIIM is privileged to have him on board SSRK is an alumnus of IIM Indore – Class of 2011 and currently works with Institutional Investor Advisory services – (IiAS). He has worked with Cognizant Business Consulting and Capgemini in the past)
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