Readers will no doubt share my sense of deja vu at the overuse of numbers to catch our attention — 5 Essential Steps: 16 Mandatory Rules; 4 Impossible Challenges; Etc. signposting articles, inviting our interest so we’ll read on. It’s not all that surprising that the reason we find these so engaging is that most of us are conditioned to God’s 10 Commandments. You can’t get a better reference than that and the copywriter who penned them must be a paradise celebrity.
In and around our industry, there are lots more than 271 things you don’t need to know at all.
If you have Denny Hatch’s “Ultimate 85-Point Marketeers Checklist” on your desk, you hardly need any more commandments. And if you do, you can just Google your query and you’ll have the answer in seconds. What’s surprising is how many of these “musts” appear over and over in our daily feast of business media coverage. How many times do we ask ourselves: Haven’t I heard that a million times before, and does that stuff really matter, anyway? Keeping our attention on what does matter is important.
Last week, writing here, Bob Bly gave us a numbered list, “Why the 10 Principles of the Direct Response Mindset Still Matter” and made the important point that the primary objective of direct marketing “is not to enhance image, build a brand, increase awareness, or entertain. It is to get more inquiries, leads, orders, and sales.” But what struck me as most important was his reference to a “Direct Response Mindset.” If you have that mindset hard-wired, you don’t have to worry about all those other 270 mandates. If it is not about inquiries, leads, orders, and sales, it’s not about direct and data-driven marketing. If I had a numbered list, mine would incorporate getting sales at less cost than the amount you could afford, getting them below the allowable cost per order (ACPO) into No. 1.
The fact is that what really matters cannot usually be framed in a numbered sequence, but needs more open space to articulate and define ideas. (Although, the 10 Commandments is a great exception.)
Ask yourself this question: Which came first? Twitter or the fact that today’s C-level executives (sadly, including our president) seem to be too busy or too lacking in concentrated brain power to read anything longer than a tweet?
Perhaps that’s why one of the world’s largest and most successful corporations has done away with fancy PowerPoint presentations and requires the convener of a meeting to prepare a written (no illustrations) meeting brief covering the intent and objective of the meeting and providing the necessary business and financial background and action desired. At the start of each meeting, the participants are handed a printout and given the necessary quiet time for them to read the brief. What a great way to get everyone aligned to the issues and at the same starting point. Any company that would follow this procedure would be sure to make meetings much more productive and get over the fact that more often than not, executives have not read the carefully prepared presentations or memoranda distributed electronically.
Having had a lot of interactions with consultants who were tasked with and compensated for reducing costs in client companies, one thing I have never found them focusing on was wasted time, like knowing all 271 things that fill space and waste time. If, especially in service companies, compensation and related benefits are one of the largest expense categories, the productive use of the time of the staff must be one of the most fertile areas for savings. Because it’s hard to measure and, therefore, outside the remuneration parameters of most cost-cutting consultancies, the value of time doesn’t make the cut for priority issues to be addressed.
It is difficult to forget that at an Executive Committee meeting at a Brazilian company, while waiting for the CEO to turn up, the executives gossiped about football (a Brazilian religion), sex (another Brazilian religion), and other topics. A back-of-the-envelope calculation of the cost of the wasted half hour until the CEO apologetically appeared came to something in the region of $15,000. When subsequently informed of this calculation, the CEO shamefully agreed that it was outrageous that he should have been so late. “But” he said shyly on reflection, “It’s my $15,000.” One can only imagine how many other meetings have similar unproductive costs.
Benjamin Franklin, one of America’s founding fathers and a tireless worker, is credited with the expression “Time is Money.” And we all know how true that is. Especially when we are wasting it reading 271 things we didn’t really need to know. Franklin certainly would have endorsed “the importance of substituting zero-sum mindsets (fasting, complaining, and suffering) with additive-sum ones (plentiful-gratitude)”
That’s why he was a big fan of Thanksgiving, something for which we can all give thanks.
May you have a hearty one.