Skip to main content

Confession: I finish nothing!*

I finish things but I’m never satisfied with what I submit, and…I spend an inordinate amount of time trying to achieve a level of satisfaction that is impossible to achieve without collaborative effort. (You may be able to relate).

I believe the reason is that I always considered that committing something for general critique (e.g. a blog post, presentation or training slides etc) was to announce that ‘this is the best I can do!’, ‘This is the extent of my questioning’, ‘I have reached the end’, ‘I have done all I can!’.

When of course it is not, far from being the end of anything it is often the start of the process.

What I should be setting out to communicate is not ‘Here is your answer’ but ‘Look at the world from this angle’, that is disruptive, and that is what modern business needs.

It’s the difference between searching for the right answers and searching for the right questions**

Ideas = Good
Disruption = Good
Finished = Unnecessary

Far from suggesting that the argument is won I want to understand the benefit of this approach. If we could countenance the demise of the finished item what do we stand to gain?

Since having this thought I have observed my own behaviour and I believe I spend 20% of my time drafting ideas and 80% of my time adding polish to avoid critique or criticism***.

The thought that we could become 5 times more productive overnight is quite seductive, even if the efficiency in practise is a fraction of this it would be worth testing and measuring.

I’m also not saying self-doubt is not a good thing, it is a key component of sound critical thinking. What I am saying is error is inevitable and the pursuit for the finished item whilst morally preferable should not be done alone.

  • Who wants to have a fully formed idea presented to them anyway?
  • Who wants to be told I have done the thinking you can now act as the scribe to my great idea?

Organisations need people who can communicate ideas and engage the thinking of others, then work collaboratively across specialisms to identify next steps. Nothing in product development ever really gets finished!

Collaboration is alchemy, it makes a group greater than the sum of its parts, it engages and allows people to fulfil their potential, it informs, it supports, and it is by far the most efficient way to tackle any problem.

But collaboration on anything needs a catalyst, an initiator, and that is what the unfinished item provides. It’s the idea the spark, it is not, and does not need to be, the answer.

Let me hypothesise

If we communicate more unfinished ideas we will increase the number of ideas we have in circulation, we will decrease the number of bad ideas we pursue to a failed conclusion, we will engage the wider team earlier, we will be happier.

Let’s get our ideas out there, let’s fail fast and learn and if by doing this we can free ourselves from the unnecessarily self-imposed pressure to deliver the finished item, then all the better.

So stop agonising over the wording on those slides, stop redrafting the e-mail you have re written three times, press send, accept your own fallibility and get your idea out there.

In conclusion

  • We will be more efficient
  • We will be better informed
  • most importantly of all we will be happier!

* Not strictly true
** The latter being infinitely more valuable to me. Wouldn’t everyone rather be working on the answer to the right question, than have the answer to the wrong one?
*** This is a barely scientific calculation but is a broadly credible estimate of the division of labour.