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  • Glen Drummond

Is That a Larch You Have There?

Updated: Feb 14, 2021

The Larch tree has a communication problem. It reproduces with cones - so it's a conifer. But it's needles bleach and drop every fall, so it's deciduous. It has cones and grows fast - but it has a dormancy cycle that makes dense hard wood. So is it hardwood or softwood? That depends on whether you're using the term literally or figuratively. It does not help to ask where the Larch is from. It's from Japan. Or Siberia. Or the mountains of Northern Europe. Or Dunkeld.


The larch makes fine lumber, but you might expect some challenges selling that lumber for its true value to the uninitiated. The terms we share to talk about trees (and everything else) evoke cognitive categories. We like what's "authentic," and what feels authentic is what feels most representative of a category. The Larch doesn't feel representative of softwood or hardwood. That's a communication problem.


If you're bringing to market something truly innovative, you should suspect that it has a larch-like relationship to existing terms and categories. Given that expectation, you can sketch a matrix of possible outcomes, where in one quadrant you enjoy the benefit of associations that are the "best of both worlds," and in the other three quadrants a sub-optimal collection of outcomes. Approaching this communication problem randomly narrows your chance of success by 75%.