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Putting Your Feet on the Furniture

By Richard B. Barger, ABC, APR

Originally Posted

I'm late, I'm late For a very important date No time to say "Hello," "Goodbye" I'm late, I'm late, I'm late No, no, no, no No, no, no, I'm overdue I'm really stew No time to say "Goodbye," "Hello" I'm late, I'm late, I'm late …The White Rabbit

Let's lean back and think. The guys can put their feet on the desk, if they want to. Or, go stretch out in a recliner or on a couch. Breathe deeply, pet the cat, sip a drink. Close your eyes, stretch your neck and shoulders, put on your favorite music. Relax. RE-LAX! And think. Take some notes -- tape-record them, if that's more your style -- free-associate, brainstorm, mind-map, list, plan, organize, diagram, sketch, doodle, sort, arrange, classify, categorize. Let your mind wander. Force your mind to wander. Whatever your favorite method of planning and analyzing and generating ideas, do it. Then, after you have your idea, come up with another way. And another. We're so busy; we have so much on our plates. We don't have enough time to meet our commitments, much less to stop and actually think about our clients, our projects, our businesses, our lives. As the White Rabbit says in the Disney version of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, "No time to say 'Goodbye,' 'Hello' -- I'm late, I'm late, I'm late." No Time to Think? Then You've Got the Cart Backwards Now think how stupid that really sounds: I'm too busy to think, too busy to plan. I have too much to do to actually stop and think about doing it, to actually work through the details. To actually DO what my client is paying me for. Well, … You won't have to make too many unthinking mistakes or offer too many lukewarm ideas before you'll have lots of time on your hands, because you'll have no clients. You and I can both run on instinct for a while. We have accumulated experience and strategies and boilerplate responses and a "routine" we can fall into when unprepared or trapped with a question we hadn't anticipated. We may be pretty good with our song and dance and hand-waving and blue smoke and mirrors. We might be able to distract a client by taking him for drinks at the CornerBar. But we can only get away with this sort of bullshit for a while. (Except for the CornerBar stuff. That's okay.) Another Lame Line Sooner or later we'll get caught. We'll use the same routine or the same excuse or the same lame response once too often with the same client, and he'll catch on. He'll realize that he sees a whole lot more talk than action, a whole lot more excuses than implementation, a whole lot more promises than results, and that we're always on the brink of deadline disaster. And he'll go looking for our replacement. Joe Williams of Joe Williams Communications says communicators and other businesspeople should ask themselves how much time they spend gathering, analyzing, and acting on information. His point? Divide a given project into two portions: time spent in inquiry and time spent doing. The less time you spend in "inquiry" -- gathering, analyzing, and acting on information -- the more time you will spend "doing." And re-doing. However, more time spent in inquiry:

  1. Reduces the time spent "doing"
  2. Improves the result
  3. Gives information and an analytical framework that can be used on other projects down the road
Hairball The most creative human being I ever met was Gordon MacKenzie. Every businessperson needs a copy of his extraordinary book, Orbiting the Giant Hairball. A well-known presenter and long-time Creative Paradox -- that was his title as well as his philosophy -- for Hallmark, you might think Gordon, of all people, would be an action guy, thinking with his pad and pencil, sketching out ideas while you were talking. Well, he certainly was capable of that. But a part of his approach to creativity was summed up in one of his best-known stories: Picture this: Beautiful, green hillside; white wood fence; blue sky, dotted with fluffy, white clouds. Pretty herd of Holstein cows, peacefully grazing. Along comes the farm's new efficiency expert -- very much like unthinking managers Gordon had worked for in the corporate world -- who looks over this placid scene and screams at the cows, "More milk! Get to work! Produce more milk!" What the guy didn't realize, Gordon wryly pointed out, was that the creative process was at its height of productiveness, unfolding right there in front of him. The "expert" just didn't recognize it. Keepin' On Keepin' On When I hit a traffic jam -- the kind where people are tempted to veer across two lanes of traffic to gain a single car length -- I sometimes take an alternate route, just to keep moving. I may or may not get to my destination any quicker, but that's not the point. When I'm in that mode, keeping moving seems to be the most important thing. That may be okay when I have fuel to burn and foot-tapping, finger-drumming, jaw-clenching, eye-darting energy to release, but it is a piss-poor plan for profiting from a business. Okay, you get my sledghammered message. Lack of motion does not equate to lack of productivity. A calm, thoughtful approach often yields better outcomes than a frantic, hell-bent-for-leather approach. Extra thought leads to even better ideas. Thinking, of course, that leads to action. Thinking that provides clarity, that leads to selling an idea or helping a customer reach his goals or improving your service to -- and revenue from -- an account. What most clients should be paying you for is your ideas, not your implementation. Your strategy, not your tactics. Your advice and counsel, not your technical skills. Your thinking. The next time you're ready to race off to a client with an ill-thought -- or no-thought -- plan, stop for a minute. Catch your breath. It may be too late for that meeting, but, when you return to your office, put your feet on the furniture. Lean back and think.
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