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A decision away from catastrophe

I have come to recognise that growing fruit as a commercial enterprise is fraught with risk. I can only think of two other professions that may have more multifaceted and unpredictable dynamics thrown at them than a grower – a coal miner and an astronaut. The decisions made are often complicated and linked to a chain of decisions. A few small bad decisions by themselves are not necessarily disastrous, but the compounding effects can be. Once you make a decision, there is no going back, and the consequences can be catastrophic.

The posterchild for catastrophe is Space Shuttle Challenger. After many successful launches and returns, the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) shuttle missions had almost become routine. But the tenth launch of Challenger would prove catastrophic. On January 28, 1986, 73 seconds after lift-off the shuttle broke apart, killing seven crew members and sending NASA into a tailspin. After a 32-month special commission investigation, the accident was blamed primarily on NASA’s decision-making process. The agency, which had a history of placing safety as a central tenet to all they did, didn’t follow their own standard operating procedures. On that fateful morning, engineers warned about launching the shuttle in the low temperatures. It took a little over a minute to demonstrate that the decision to launch was a wrong decision. The culture of NASA had become such that this type of accident couldn’t possibly happen to them. They were too smart, too experienced, and had proven performance. Launch on.

A few growers have confirmed my hypothesis that getting fruit from tree to table is littered with best guesses and questionable decisions, but in spite of that, fruit still does gets to the table. So are growers making good decisions because they are seeing positive outcomes? The same growers will tell you that they honestly don’t really know, but would like to better understand how their decisions are tied to outcomes. Many growers cringe as they tell stories about just how close they were to catastrophe, but somehow, someway they survived to grow again. All growers agree, they could do better. Many hope that their bad decisions are small enough not to hit them hard, and at the end of the day, more better than bad decisions are made. 

Because hope is not a good plan, Cucumber wants to help growers map their decisions to outcomes. In that way, growers will have objective evidence as to what really works and with insight as to why.  They will be able compare different decisions to different outcomes and use that knowledge to enhance their operations and help their staff to become even better growers, faster.  In managing decisions related to the triad of risks – executional, environmental, and market– growers need tools that help guide them through the ridges and troughs of uncertainty and highlight what matters, so they can apply or create best practices that have the greatest outcomes. They need access to expertise, which they may not possess themselves, to complement their own experience and learning.  Cucumber helps by collecting the right data, tracing decisions then analysing, and visualising outcomes.  Cucumber is working hard to help NZ growers become the best growers in the world, because we are all part of building the World of Plenty.