It’s The Berries: Emergent Bias, and the LUX of Response Capacity
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“It ain’t so much the things we don’t know that get us into trouble. It’s the things we know that just ain’t so.” – attributed to Will Rogers
Strawberries are a true wonder of nature. Beautifully shaded by broad leafy foliage, the red fruit is free to ripen comfortably in clusters of red deliciousness. The conditions in the fields influence the exact maturation of each plant and berry. The soil, sun, and water. The late frosts and heavy rains. The heat and humidity. The winds and insects.
At Honey Brook Organic Farm, like other farms growing strawberries, the fields are carefully tended. Raised rows wrapped in heat-retaining black plastic. Irrigation of the fields when needed rain doesn’t come. Then, with time and the working of nature, the berries come. Whitish-green, turning deep and bright red. Sweet and luscious.
But nature treats strawberries like life treats people. The berries ripen at different rates. Even on the same clusters of the same plants. From day to day, the plants will offer their subtly hidden ready treasures for the picking.
The fields at Honey Brook Organic Farm are wide and deep. Dozens of rows of strawberry plants, that seem to stretch out longer than a football field. Shareholders in the farm’s Community-Supported Agriculture program wait for the word that it is time for picking. It is time to look and find each member’s share for that week. Maybe a quart. Maybe more, if nature has been kind that week.
Each day, the farm’s field crew note which rows have the best picking. Members have a day for their picking. Given small cartons and bags for their respective shares, each person or family group set off to find their ripe red treasure.
But where to look? A quick scan of the field shows the collective thinking. Most members are clustered in the rows farthest from the check-in tent, and to the far end of the rows. Does this make sense? To the average member, the answer would be yes. If you ask, the rationale comes quickly. The presumption is that the near ends of the allotted rows must have been picked over already. These folks assume that those who came before them must have been just a bit lazier, and less inclined to walk the long rows to the presumed better picking. So the flock flows to the far parts of the field. They do return with a wonderful harvest of lush ripe berries.
But. What if… the “conventional wisdom” is wrong? Over the past five years, I’ve learned that the “wisdom of the crowd” wasn’t so wise.” While it might be easier to fill a quart box in a shorter distance at the back of a row, it was easy to find plenty of perfect strawberries at the near end of the closest rows. It simply took a bit of easy searching. I rarely have to go more than about 25-30 feet down a row to fill my multiple quarts with fabulous fruit. My total time in the field is always less than the folks walking way out and down the rows.
In the framework about the dynamics of disruptive experience that I developed with Denise Easton, we found four principal domains influencing our actions and outcomes. Three of the four FLUX domains particularly influence our response in the face of this “conventional wisdom” and the emergent pattern of crowd behavior.
In this case, we can see the LUX- the light of a better response and outcome:
L– LEARNING. What can we actually find out about the picking in the field? Can we ask other members where they have looked? Where they found the best picking? Can we ask the farm staff what they may know about where to look? What if no one has any new or different information for us?
U– UNDERSTANDING. When we see the crowd out in the field (and there were over 40 people there in the far parts of the field when I was there filling four quarts up front on my own last week), what does it mean to us? Are we likely to assume through implicit or confirmation bias, that the crowd is right? Or do we think that different Understanding is possible- and might be correct? What if our sense of what we observe is constrained by what we think we understand?
X– EXPLORING. Are we willing and able to try something different than the rest of the crowd? In this case, it takes little time and effort to search under the wide green foliage at the near end of the rows, and see what ripe gems are there for the picking. If we are right, we will fill our baskets more quickly. If we are wrong, we will have invested little time and effort. A longer walk to join the crowd is still possible. A failed exploration of a promising possibility is ok. Our efforts will be rewarded with useful Learning and Understanding.
This is the way of building better Response Capacity. Our Experience influences our Expectations, and in turn, our Engagement with the world. We can copy the crowd, or we can observe, inquire, act, and achieve better outcomes.
Now, where’s the whipped cream?