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Custard Apples

I love Custard Apples. Not giving anyone any ideas but I’m pretty sure you could kidnap me by showing me a custard apple at the right moment! Needless to say I want to grow a custard apple tree…

Now growing a custard apple tree is a very difficult business. You have to:

  • Put the seeds in water and discard the ones that float
  • Leave the rest in water for about a week
  • Wrap them in a damp tissue paper and leave them for a few more weeks to germinate. Some of them will germinate. Some will catch fungus. Others will just remain dead.
  • Carefully plant the healthy seedlings in separate pods and then the regular game of survival begins. Weeds, fungus, insects, over-watering, under-watering, right temperature, etc…

Isn’t it great that custard apples are full of seeds?

Even if you’ve never planted anything, you intuitively understand the idea that you need to start with a lot of seeds to be successful in this process. You understand that most of those seeds are not going to turn into a tree that bears fruit.

Why then, would you assume that the ‘one’ idea you have, will succeed?

The economics of experimentation

Many leaders talk about experimentation and learning through failure but few of them actually apply this intuition at work. They call it an experiment but assume it will succeed.

Even if you don’t assume success and are open to finding out what you don’t want to find out, doing just ‘one’ experiment is actually counter-productive. There’s just a very high chance of failure. The process will payoff only when you have a portfolio of small experiments that you can conduct at a very low cost. More than 90% of them will fail but the one or two that succeed will give disproportionate returns.

Nasim Taleb talks about this in his book Antifragile

This is not a new concept, merely a difficult one to ingrain in our thinking. We have this innate attraction towards order, predictability, easily understandable cause and effect relationships, just the idea of determinism. If only there was a proper process, if only I had more time, if only I had more control, I’d figure this world out.

Hey, maybe you will! But till then, the only option you have is to move ahead with cautious optimism, hoping every seed will grow but knowing that it’s highly, highly unlikely.

Life is harsh; plant many seeds.

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