Grapes and Elephants

  • By: Doug Betts, Business/Education Committee Chairman 

Let me start this article by assuring you that by its end, you’ll understand how picking grapes, eating an elephant and other odd topics are relevant to the Business / Education Committee of the Fresno Chamber.

While having lunch with a fellow committee member at Chandler Airport recently, he shared a boyhood story about picking grapes with his parents.  He was standing in the field, looking at an incredible amount of vines that needed to be picked and couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed at the tremendous amount of work to be done.  It was at this point that his father nudged him into getting started by calling out from the next row, “They don’t get picked by lookin’ at ‘em.”

This story reminded me of an old adage/joke that queries; how do you eat an elephant?  The answer is: one bite at a time.

I remember as a teenager I stumbled across a small book called “Tyranny of the Urgent.”  I have to admit, I’m surprised I still remember the book’s name, but I think that it made such an impact on me, that it just stuck. The book revolved around how much of our energy is expelled tending to the urgent matters in daily life, while neglecting what is truly important.  The real message of the book was this: If we tend to the important from the start, there will be less of the urgent to be dealt with.  Furthermore, much of the urgent will survive regardless of being neglected in favor of tending to what’s important.

I try to use to-do lists to ensure I prioritize the important. I often use my computer to manage this list, moving tasks around, giving precedence as necessary.  But, wait a minute… the time it takes to get some of the items on the list done is often less than the amount of time I spend managing them on the list! 

Recently I was in County Supervisor Susan Anderson’s office asking for help with a building permit issue, I thought she would make a phone call sometime after I left but, much to my delight, she picked up the phone with me right there and dealt with the issue immediately.  I remember thinking, “Now that’s the way to manage a to-do list!”  Her swift action made me revisit my 2012 New Year’s resolution to make myself more efficient. If something will take more time to put down on the list than it would take to get it done – “Just do it….now!”

Now let’s bring it all together.  I frequently overhear or participate in conversations bemoaning test scores in schools, budget cuts, high unemployment, lack of qualified applicants for available jobs, low graduation rates and…. Well, you know the rest.  It can be overwhelming to say the least.  However, in the words of our committee member’s father – it won’t get fixed by looking at it! 

Going back to my old high school book, we need to start by identifying which problems are urgent, and which are important. In my opinion, helping our youth grow to adults who earn enough to have an enjoyable lifestyle and care for their family in the valley is important.  Bringing up term scores and addressing budgets is urgent.  And while each of us alone can’t fix the whole problem, if we each take a bite out of it, everything can add up to make a difference. And, if there is something you can do to help, just do it…now. 

I invite you to attend one of our meetings to see if there’s a way you can fit in with our committee to help fix this stuff.  We meet at 7:30 AM on the second Tuesday of each month at the Fresno Chamber of Commerce.


One thought on “Grapes and Elephants

  1. It takes a whole community to help our students do well. Schools and teachers are just waiting to have community members come into their classrooms to help out.

    The schools must be specific, though, in what they ask of a community member. Guest speaker? Interviewer for portfolio day? Field trip? Pizza lunch as a reward for good grades, attendance, etc.? Assistance with a large project in the way of advice? The schools must also honor the business person’s time.

    Each of these is a “bite” that almost any community member or teacher can take.

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