March 27, 2006
Liz published this at 7:55 am
Boring, Broken, or Both.
“The only thing an intelligent child can do with a complete toy is take it apart,” a kindergarten teacher told me. “An incomplete toy lets children use their imaginations.”–Todd Oppenheimer, Schooling the Imagination (About the Waldorf Schools)
Some days it’s a “have-to.” A monkey crawled on your desk that you don’t want to fix or write about. You’re face to face with something that is boring, broken, or both. You can do the grown-up thing. Dig in, reach for a bandage to fix it, and get things done. OR You can do what a kid would do–pull it apart to see how things work.
Be a Genius–Morph and Mosh It
Take it a part and see what it’s made of. That’s what Leonardo would do. That’s what most curious kids would do too. Don’t put a band-aid on it. Morph it into something else. Mosh parts of other things into it. Make it into something new. Here are some ways that you might do that with that problem or a boring idea that you have to write about.
1. Find the parts. Breaking things down into manageable chunks makes the most boring, broken, or beastly task less powerful. It puts you in charge. It also gives you a chance to see how things fit.
2. Identify which parts need attending to and which do not. When we look at a whole, the details can be a distraction. Push those details out of the way. Pick three things that deserve attention and focus in on only them. Let me track this with two scenarios.
- Scenario 1–the article: You need to write an article on the vision of your brand. Pick three main ideas you want to share. Set the details aside.
- Scenario 2–the client problem: You need to unravel a misunderstanding that has cost money and caused damage to your relationship. Define the damage that has occurred. Don’t spend any time on the causes now.
3. Morph it. Arrange and rearrange the parts you have identified. Decide how those parts fit best together. Do it as if you were rebuilding a toy–What if this went here, or here, or here?
- Scenario 1–the article: Play with how you might order the ideas of your vision–short-term to long-term; easy to more difficult; altruistic to bottom line; head to heart.
- Scenario 2–the client problem: Set goals for how you repair the damage and decide which goal should be the first that you address. Think about who should be part of the repair crew and what piece of the picture they each add.
Think of the outcome each time your rearrange things. This sounds like a lot, but we’re only talking a few seconds here.
4. When you have the parts where you want them, look for a pattern in what you’ve got. What you’re looking for is the big idea–the whole behind the parts you’ve made. This is the “putting things back together” stage.
- Scenario 1–the article: Are the ideas for the article about how your company is going to grow? Do they arrange themselves as a statement of altruism, or innovation, or point to an idea that will change the fabric of business?
- Scenario 2–the client problem: How do your goals frame the action you will take? Is your planned response that of a thinker, a feeler, one who delegates or one who takes the bull by the horns? Did you choose a team who can execute your plan?
If you can’t find a pattern in what you’ve got, rework your parts until they gel. It won’t take long now that you know you’re looking for a cohesive whole.
5. Mosh it. Add some spark from the outside. Ideas from outside the situation add energy and change the way you feel about the task at hand. Re-introduce the details that were there, if they’re pertinent, but be sure to include something totally new.
- Scenario 1–the article: You might add an anecdote or an analogy to frame the vision, or speak to how the vision came to be. You could include your statement of what the vision means to you personally, or talk about how difficult you found it to write down the vision for others to read. Sometimes I just relate the process it took to get an article done. Other times I choose a TV show or character that readers will know well and let that image, and what it stands for, carry the article along.
- Scenario 2–the client problem: The way you framed the problem will say a lot about how you want to repair the damage. Before you move on what you’ve found, consider how the client and the others involved might also frame the problem. Are they thinkers, feelers, those who delegate, and doers too? Use that answer to form a more thorough plan of action.
Write It Up
Can’t avoid it any longer. It’s time to write things up, but that boring, broken or both “have to” is under your control. Now you have a plan for what you want to say or do. So writing should go easy on you, and the little voice that would have been whispering in your ear, “I hate this. I hate this,” should be quiet too.
Looking at this process on paper may seem a lot, but actually, it takes far less time than most folks I know spend thinking about how much we don’t want to deal with that “have to” on our desks.
And the payoff is you feel so good when you’ve made that monkey go away, and you know you’ve thought it through so that the hairy guy isn’t going to come back.
I hate monkeys on my desk.
–ME “Liz” Strauss
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