Phil Acock in the Fourayes Fruit Processing plant

Fruit industry comment and insights from Phil Acock

Oct 3, 2016

Stating the Obvious

A good friend of mine runs the IT function for a leading UK company. He noticed that, year after year, the number of issues raised by IT users was significantly lower in August and significantly higher in September. The September spike was a major resourcing issue.

The reason was obvious: users were away on holiday in August and back in September. Or was it obvious?

He decided to investigate.

With just a little more digging he discovered the real reason for the dip and spike: his people were taking holidays in August and users were holding back on issues until the full team returned to strength in September.

By spreading his team’s holiday load, and communicating to users that full service was available throughout August, the dip and spike disappeared. As a result, resources could be better managed, no overloading of the team and everything could be dealt with in a timely fashion.

When someone says ‘Isn’t it obvious?’ I wonder how often the reply should be ‘is it? Why?’

As Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor from 161 to 180 AD, succinctly put it: ‘the secret of all victory lies in the organization of the non-obvious’.

At Fourayes we work very hard at looking beyond the ‘obvious’. It’s an approach that pays dividends right the way through the Business. A good example is our approach to Class 2 soft-fruit. Class 2 strawberries represent around 5% of the average crop, taste every bit as good as Class 1 fruit but have traditionally been rejected for supermarket fresh fruit sales because of their shape and size. That seemed just plain wrong to us, so now we purchase the fruit, aseptically puree it within 48 hours and, as a result, we have fresh puree available all year round for making the most delicious Kentish Strawberry jam. It’s also completely changed the way UK soft fruit farmers value their crop. If the solution was so obvious, why hadn’t people been doing it for years?

Looking beyond the obvious isn’t easy: it’s human nature to latch on to what looks like the solution and to seek validation from all those nearby. Once one person nods it quickly becomes an epidemic.

It’s a brave person who says ‘that may be the obvious answer, but is it the right answer?’

Thomas Edison could easily have settled for one of his earlier iterations of the incandescent light bulb. The outcome would almost certainly have meant changing our light bulbs more frequently.  We’d have probably got used to it. In the event he persisted and, after some 1,000 attempts, finally arrived at the solution that served us well for over a century. Thank goodness he didn’t settle for the obvious!

So, in my book, if something seems obvious, that’s the very time to challenge whether the true answer is a less obvious one.  Or, as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries, once said: ‘There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact’.

Phil Acock,
Managing Director and Mad Scientist at Fourayes; the UK’s number one grower and processor of English Bramley apples and processor of fruits from the UK and across the globe.

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