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The Avocado Paradox

By Chuck Cusumano and Jillian Broaddus

Like it or not, we have all dealt with the phenomenon we like to call the avocado paradox.

On one hand, an avocado is difficult, because (thanks to its exterior) it can be so hard to know when it is at its peak freshness for eating. On the other hand, the avocado (thanks to its exterior) also lets you know when it is way too early or way too late to eat it.

How can one fruit (that's right, avocados are fruit) be so difficult to predict while simultaneously being so clear about if you got it right or wrong?

It might sound silly, but avocados are tricky. Do you buy them too hard and let them ripen? Or should you wait, buy them when they are just soft enough, and be sure to use them the day you purchase them? Even then—what happens to the rest of the avocados you buy? Are they just destined to rot?

Avocados, as you might imagine, are not like apples.

Sure, they have things in common—you can buy both from fruit stands, they both ripen after being picked, and they are both pretty delicious (depending on your taste, of course). But apples have a much better shelf-life. They also take a lot more time to ripen past the point of consumption.

Apples, for the most part, will taste the same on day 1 versus day 7—this is definitely not the case for precarious avocados.

Too early, you end up with a crunchy green thing. Too late, and you are stuck with a blackened, smelly thing. And that window between the two is so short—anywhere from 3-4 days.

All of this information leads us to the ultimate question—why do we even bother dealing with the precarious, picky avocado?

What the Avocado Paradox Teaches Us About Life

When we get the avocado timing right—when we cut it open in that 3-4 day sweet spot—it is, undoubtedly, absolutely magical. It delivers exactly what we wanted—in some instances, it even exceeds our expectations.

On any given grocery trip, you may buy five avocados. If three of them are close to or directly hit the sweet spot, then having to throw away the other two seems to make a normal-amount of sense, right?

It ends up being the price we pay for the opportunity to select the perfect avocado.

At this point, you are probably wondering why we have been blabbering about fruit for such a long time—but hang in there, we promise we have a point. Just a few more fruit facts and we swear you will see where we are going with all of this in no time.

Avocados only ripen properly once they are picked. While they mature on the tree, the process of ripening cannot occur properly until they are plucked off the branches. Pears are the same way, too. This puts these two fruits in a unique situation. (For more information on how to select fruit click here.)

But what does any of this—and that fact exactly—have to do with people, leadership, performance, results, business, psychology, or any of the other topics that we normally discuss in this blog? We actually think it has everything to do with our normal topics. But we will get there in just a few more lines.

Fruit Basics & Life Lessons

We think you are about to be amazed by what the avocado can teach us about life, but first, we need to lay out some of the basics to connect the dots.

First, you need to know that there are two categories of fruits:

  • Climacteric Fruits: they ripen after they are picked

  • Non-climacteric fruits: they are what they are when they are picked

There are also two other terms that you will need to know:

  • Mature: physiologically ready to ripen

  • Ripe: edible and in peak flavor and peak texture

And lastly, we need to discuss the process of ripening, typically defined as the process where the hormone ethylene is produced within the fruit. That hormone triggers the fruit to convert starches to sugars in order to go from firm to tender and from green to colorful.

Have you caught on to why we are telling you about avocados and fruits?

Believe it or not, they are very similar to people, relationships, processes, and the overall maturing of any sort of thing.

Think about it this way: Have you ever purchased a piece of fruit that—no matter how long you had it on the kitchen counter—never ripened? In the same vein, have you ever hired an employee who—no matter how long they have worked for you—never seemed to progress?

The answer lies in one of two places.

If it was a climacteric fruit (like the avocado), then it needs to be fully mature before it can start its ripening process. If it is picked before maturity, it will never ripen properly—it will just rot. If it is a non-climacteric fruit (like a strawberry, for example), the day it is picked, it ceases to ripen. It is as ripe as it is ever going to be.

Because of this, you must know which fruits can ripen after they are picked and which fruits are just as you see them—that way you know when it is right to pick them.

In that same way, some friendships, relationships, and employees are just what you see.

They have very little opportunity for ripening available to them. They are what they are and although people can change (ripen), some very rarely do.

In Carol Dweck's book Mindset, she discusses the concept of a “fixed mindset.” These are the people that resist change. They often use statements like, “We always have done it this way” or “ I am who I am, and I cannot be something I am not.” They tend to be non-climacteric types.

The climacteric fruits tend to get better with age.

They are picked while they are still green and ripen as they go. The fruit continues to improve and change after it comes off the vine. Carol Dweck would say that an individual like this has a “growth mindset.”

Consider some of your past friendships.

Maybe in some of those relationships you drifted apart. Maybe things changed because of a relocation or your common connection disappeared. Or maybe you—not your friends—changed.

It has been said that some friendships were meant for a reason, some friendships were meant for a season, and some friendships were meant for life—the challenge is always trying to figure out which friendships are which.

Sometimes, we meet someone when they are nearing their maturity point and just starting the ripening process. Maybe at that point, we are fully ripened. However, we are both at the same place at that time and mistakenly think we are on the same path.

Because we do not realize that we are just at an intersection point and not growing along the same path, we may hold on to the friendship, relationship, or the job longer than we should.

It is the same with the avocado. Maybe it feels a little soft, looks like the right color, and smells good—sure, it might be ready, but if we wait just a little bit longer, it could be even better.

Then again, maybe when we purchased it at the grocery store, it was already at its peak.

Maybe it was ready for whatever we had in store for it but we ended up waiting too long. We tried to get more out of it than it had in it. We took our eye off of it for a day and then when we did cut it open, it was less than desirable.

As a friend, as a leader, as a business, it is important to know when a process, an employee, or a client relationship has come to the end of its ripening process—then we can determine what to do with it.

Some people are content just where they are. Some companies are fine (for the moment) to just continue doing what they have always done. They resist change and do not seek additional growth.

On the other hand, some people and companies—no matter how much success or growth they have achieved—are always striving to achieve more. They are on a continuous ripening journey.

The real secret is to know which fruits are which when you are shopping. But you need to know yourself, too.

If you know what your need is, you can better evaluate which type of fruit to invest in.

It is no different with friends, relationships, processes, employers, or employees.

Select correctly and magic will happen. Pick poorly, and you may have to throw it all away in the process.

If you would like more information on how to better align yourself, your company, or just how to hire mature people, reach out to us at I am sure we can help you select the best avocado!

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