Category Archives: Blog
Have you ever noticed that when you stop focusing on something, it comes to you? Give up on meeting that special person, and there he or she is. Give up on trying to solve a problem and the answer just comes to you. The list of examples goes on and on.
I’ve heard a lot of reasons why this phenomenon happens with such regularity. Some say it’s because you free yourself from trying to solve the problem with normal means. Some just say it’s the way the world works. Some say it’s the Law of Detachment (like the Law of Attraction, but more about not caring how it comes about), some say God works in mysterious ways.
For me this phenomenon shows up in copywriting and developing concepts almost every time. I go for a walk, grab some lunch, or even go to the bathroom and the idea hits. I attribute this to the first reason — the unrelated activity frees my mind from the normal constraints, and allows in some less-than-obvious ideas.
But what about the phenomenon that all of my single friends talk about — as soon as you stop looking for a romantic partner, one appears? This can’t be about freeing your mind to find loosely connected ideas.
I believe this has to do with letting go. You let go of micromanaging the outcome. You relax, you accept that maybe you’re alright with just being by yourself, and you stop trying to create impossibly stressful and unnatural ways to meet somebody. And when you’re relaxed and okay with being on your own, you’re more attractive. It creates an environment that is ideal for growing a relationship.
Interestingly, this is also how I’ve been able to get the best work from people. I give them the assignment, the creative brief, and trust them to do their best work. Often, I’ve been so surprised by the result that it took courage on my part to approve it. The work was so creative, so innovative that I would never have seen their solution as an option. It was breakthrough work — which in advertising and marketing is the Holy Grail.
When I have micromanaged or been micromanaged, the best result that anybody could create was a watered down version of the micromanager’s vision. Nobody was happy with it (unless they really had no idea of what constitutes good), and the experience of creating it was invariably awful.
My dad used to say that the key to great management is to set the course, then invite good people to exceed their own expectations. He said that they’ll always do a much better job than you would.
Set the course, do your work, and let go of how you expect it to look at the finish line. The results may just surprise you.
The last 24 hours have presented me with more than a couple of chances to take a hard look in the mirror. But this morning’s opportunity, which came courtesy of the incomparable Seth Godin, gave me the greatest cause to pause.
“I’m often stunned by the lack of questions that adults are prepared to ask…” is how he opens his December 27th blog. “When you see kids go on a field trip, the questions pour out of them.”
It’s so true. Kids want to know everything. Yes, some want to show off, others want attention, but for the most part, kids just want to know why and how, and they will keep asking until it makes sense to them (I know this because I raised two very curious people).
Adults, on the other hand, are usually afraid to look ignorant or foolish. And I’m hardly an exception to that rule. It takes great effort for me to say, “Pretend that I know nothing about this subject and explain it to me in a way that I don’t make any false assumptions.” As a writer, often of technical subjects, this is the only way I can make sure that all the acronyms and shorthand phrases aren’t being used in a different way by a different technology.
Yet there are other times where my ego takes over and I sound like a total fool.
Yes, that’s right (and this is directed at my own ego): when my ego takes over, I inevitably sound like a fool. I don’t ask questions or seek clarity about things that I don’t really understand. I say things that are off topic or that try to shift the focus back to me.
So, after reading Seth Godin’s blog this morning, I realized (or maybe remembered) that asking questions is the first step in learning and growing. Being genuinely interested in the answers is the second step. And in both cases, my ego is the biggest obstacle. When my need to appear smart takes over, I rarely look as smart as I would like.
The result of all this pondering is that I think that I might rephrase that famous quote from Abraham Lincoln and Mark Twain to say something more along the lines of “Better to ask a question and appear a fool, than to assume to know and remove all doubt.”