I learned two things today. I learned that we have an avocado tree in our yard.  And I also learned that avocados grow on trees.

Avocado 1 Avocado 2 Who knew?

Okay, so technically its in the neighbors yard, but it leans over our fence and we are 100% going to benefit from the tree once the avocados are ripe. (Pro-tip: I don’t personally like fresh tomatoes, so I make guacamole with diced naval oranges. Second Pro-tip: Also delightful with pomegranate seeds)

“Great, Greg, thanks for rubbing that in our non-bearded faces.”  I know, I know, trust me, there’s a point.

I’m telling you all this because I had a realization when I learned that it was an avocado tree. It occurred to me that I didn’t know avocados grew on trees.  I’m 30 years old, and this week was the first time it occurred to me that avocados grow on trees.  I mean, sure, it makes sense. And I guess if you had asked me, I probably would have guessed that they grew on trees, but I had never devoted an ounce of energy into thinking about something so obvious.

This got me thinking. There are things like that throughout the rest of our lives as well. Things that are so obvious that they can be hard to see.

A few weeks back, Sara and I were back in Michigan for a wedding in Kalamazoo (possibly best known as the hometown of Derek Jeter or for its mention in the literature of Dr. Seuss). And before heading back to the wedding I had to contact the Radisson we were staying at to shorten our trip by a night. We had decided to spend one extra night with family, and one fewer night at the hotel.

So I called the hotel, and shortened the trip, here is how the conversation went:

“Okay, Mr. Jenkins, we’ve adjusted your trip. I have a new reservation confirmation number for you. Let me know when you’re ready.”

“Oh, actually, I’m driving right now and am not in a position to write it down. Would you mind just emailing it to me?”

“I’m afraid I can’t do that. Our system only sends the initial confirmation. Sorry.”

“Oh. But, you can see the confirmation number, right?”Chimp Facepalm

“Yes sir.”

“And surely someone in your office has access to email, right?”

“Yes, of course, but the system we use doesn’t send updated confirmation numbers, only the original number is sent out.”

“Right. Nevermind.”

I backed off at that point, gave a heavy sigh, and decided to roll the dice and travel without a confirmation number (because I like to live dangerously).

Of course they have email. And of course she could have written the number down herself, and sent it to me. But this didn’t even occur to her. And it’s not her fault.  She is a product of the climate she works in, and has never been empowered to think critically or to take ownership and just do what was best for the customer.

This was a valuable reminder for me that even with all the advancements in technology:

People are still our safety net.

People can rationalize. We can think creatively. And we can empathize. This is what sets us apart. You, and the people you work with, are the fail-safe when something doesn’t fit within the system you’ve built.

Automation is most powerful when used to multiply people, not replace them.

I’d love to hear if you’ve had a story like this, if you have a guacamole recipe, or if you feel Kalamazoo is best known for something else.