“Nothing happens until something moves.” – Albert Einstein
This week, I had one of those days—not the bad kind, the good. After a morning breakfast meeting with a client, I got back to the office at 10:30 (AM). Despite the fact that it had been a productive meeting, I lamented the fact that a couple of hours had elapsed without crossing two or three things off the “to do” list.
And then something quasi-magical happened. Determined to make up for lost time, I
suppose, I put my head down and worked deliberately for 90 straight minutes. In that time, I built all of the components for a reasonably sophisticated website.
I wolfed down two pieces of pizza for lunch, eager to return to the trance that just had been so kind to me. Sixty more minutes of concentration and I’d knocked out another project that had been staring up at me from my desk for too long. I then dug into another project that was underneath that one during the next 60 minutes and, then, with reckless ambition, I went back to stale emails for the next 60 minutes.
My late start was like a liberation of sorts. In my determination to stay focused and uninterrupted, in five short hours, I accomplished more than I do in most days, this while the Red Sox’ opening-day telecast beckoned me from the next room.
I once attended a seminar in which a presenter pushed the concept of 60-minute bursts of concentration. For one hour, she said, ignore the phone, the email, and conversation. Close the door and hyper-focus on something that demands full concentration. I don’t remember the presenter’s name, but the 60-minute-bursts-of-concentration idea instantly became my most potent weapon against inertia and procrastination.
In my experience, the power of inertia is compounded at an organizational level. Equipped not just with the collective inertia of the group, but with the people who consciously or subconsciously have comfort and/or ownership of the status quo, getting things started often is the most daunting step in a project meant to effect meaningful change. I’m talking about REALLY getting started, not just paying lip service to it. Getting started on projects like finally fixing a nebulous problem or process that has plagued an organization’s efficiency for years or launching a mission-critical project or initiative that has been promised to management or to a board, but which no one has any particular clue where to begin, who will do it, and how.
“The less there is to justify a traditional custom, the harder it is to get rid of it,” said Mark Twain. Adherence to legacy processes or orthodoxy is what dooms many projects to failure. While I’ve made a bit of a right turn here, my solution to going from a blank piece of paper to creating the ideas, the momentum, and the inspiration to make meaningful change has three critical components.
- First, you need to find the right group. Four or five people, no more than six. The group needs to include at least one outsider to a problem or challenge, but likewise must include someone who knows the inside workings of the department or process that will be most impacted by the change and/or can serve as the obstacle to its implementation (including them can take them from obstacle to catalyst). The other two to three people should be the creative types, the people who like to throw around ideas.
- Second, you need a white board.
- Third, and anyone who has worked for me knows what’s coming next, you need a table full of Chinese food.
Commit yourself to an hour of conversation and new ideas with one person serving as the scribe. And then it’s full brainstorming mode with all the associated rules: There are no bad ideas; be respectful, if not civil; keep asking the question “why;” and, if necessary, everyone agrees that no idea is attributed to anyone outside the room without permission.
You don’t stop until 60 minutes have elapsed and the white board is filled with ideas or until egg rolls and dumplings are being hurled at each other (and, unless you’re having a real conversation, the egg rolls and dumplings will indeed fly).
Inertia now is in your rear-view mirror. Next up: Execution … it’s time for pizza and Powerpoint!