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Pruning Decisions [Decision Making
Posted on May 10, 2021 @ 07:55:00 AM by Paul Meagher

In today's blog I want to discuss some similarities between pruning decisions and business decisions, specifically, the distinction between primary and secondary decisions.

The usefulness of the distinction between primary and secondary decisions recently came into view for me when I was pruning some grape vines in a small vineyard I own. When you are pruning grape vines you need to first decide what primary cuts to make. When you are using a cane pruning approach, these are the cuts that reduce the complexity of last year's growth down to two new canes and often some central spurs for next year's canes. Once you make these primary cuts there are alot of secondary cuts that don't have to be made because they are no longer options (the canes were removed). The secondary cuts are those that reduce the overall length of the remaining canes and remove debris from these canes (i.e., tendrils, side branches, skeletons from grape clusters that were not harvested). Once your are done making your primary and secondary cuts, you can wrap your canes to the lowest trellis wire. Here is a video illustrating how I made the primary cuts on a couple of grape vines.

What you will often see in novice pruners is that they will focus on making secondary cuts (removing tendrils, shortening canes) and when they eventually make some primary cuts they may end up cutting out the canes they worked on. This is wasted time and effort. In my imagined instruction manual for novices I would emphasize that some cuts are more important than others and your first cuts are the most important ones. I would call these the primary cuts. Once you make these cuts, then you can focus on making any remaining secondary cuts that are required to finalize the form of the vine.

In business decision making, we may start up a company within a framework of primary decisions which constrain how we go about the day to day secondary decision making involved in running that business. We make primary decisions with some ideas about what we expect to happen and if we find that things are not turning out as planned, we may need to make some new primary decisions about which lines of business to pursue and which ones to drop.

It is easy to get complacent and run a business without questioning the primary decisions that framed how the business would conduct itself. We can easily lose site of the fact that our decisions are mostly secondary decisions within the path we have chosen. If we were to engage in primary decision making again, we might focus on pursuing other paths and the secondary decisions that we previously regarded as important may become irrelevant and time sucking.

When a novice initially tries to prune a vine they may be overwhelmed by the complexity of branching from last years growth. The distinction between primary and secondary cuts is useful in drawing their attention to the fact that certain cuts need to be made first (primary cuts) and once made, determine the other cuts that should be made (secondary cuts). When confronted with the complexity of starting or expanding a business, certain decisions will be primary decisions to reduce the options to a manageable number, and secondary decisions you make with respect to these remaining options. We may have expectations about how things will pan out, however, because we haven't engaged in alot of the secondary decision making as it confronts reality, we may end up learning that one or more of our primary decisions was unsound and that we should reexamine our primary decisions. This shift back to revising primary decisions is usually referred to as "pivoting" in the business literature.

One of the most difficult primary decisions I had to make was to remove 7 rows of vines that I mistakenly planted on my absentee neighbors property. After failing to secure an agreement with the owner for the upcoming season, I decided to remove them rather than dedicate all the time and effort required to maintain them for another season. I couldn't see myself spending all that time and effort working on something that I no longer had clear ownership off. I learned the hard way the value of precisely mapping your property boundaries. After I removed the grape vine rows, I made another primary decision to purchase land that had 14 acres of wild blueberries growing on them which are easier and less costly to manage and very productive. I would have never made this decision if I didn't make this mistake and was lucky to be able convert lemons into lemonade. The way I recovered from a bad primary decision was to make another primary decision to focus on growing a different type of berry that I could use for wine making.

Managing a vineyard takes a significant amount of time and money. When you are exerting all that effort and money year over year for very little benefit you have to wonder whether you are making a good primary decision. What motivates the primary decision to maintain a vineyard for me is not just the production of grapes, but the fact that people who will eventually be coming to the farm to sample our wine will have the visual of a vineyard and the option to sample some wine made from those grapes. Also, if a vineyard is not too big, it can be a good excuse to be active outside and engaged in a productive activity that you can get better at. In these times of covid, it takes my mind off the world and is good for my mental and physical health. Good business decisions are not just about making more money, they must also balance other factors that are important to your overall context.

So how do we make good business decisions? In this blog, I have argued that it is first necessary to distinguish between two types of decisions you need to make, primary and secondary decisions. Making good primary and secondary decisions are necessary to achieving success, but they involve different constraints. Primary decisions take into account your wholistic context where secondary decisions are more about making good decisions within the context of your primary decisions. Most business decisions involve making secondary decisions within the context of primary decisions already made. Sometimes we need to step back and realize that the decisions we are struggling with today could become irrelevent and timewasting if we revisited the primary decisions that justified this allocation of secondary decision making effort.

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