A friend of mine ran across a fine little article in PRINTER’S INK, the magazine of advertising, and kindly sent it to me. It was written by Tom Batman the creative director of a New York advertising agency. And while this article applies to the business of advertising, I think a lot of it can apply to you and me and the way in which we conduct our lives.
“It has taken me more than 20 years to learn that the most useful business rules are so deceptively simple as to escape recognition by most of us. We tend to wave aside the simplest things as lacking in deep significance.
Anyone who takes the time to heed the following very simple advice, however, should have ten fewer obstacles before him in his pursuit of success. These rules may be hard to follow, but they are easy to understand:
1. Do one thing at a time. Remember, no man can do more. Two things at a time or three things at a time are less than one thing at a time. Here, mathematics stands confounded, for here always… more is less.
2. Know the problem. A great deal of time is skillfully wasted by people trying to find the answer when they really don’t know the problem. Be sure you have a clearly stated (and agreed upon) the problem first.
3. Learn to listen. Some people go through their entire lives without hearing anything but the sound of their own voices. No one has a monopoly on good ideas, so listen! Open your ears before you open your mouth – it may open your eyes.
4. Learn to ask questions. Do you approach problems with a preconceived notion of the answer? This may be quite satisfying to the ego, but seldom to the problem at hand. Make a point to ask questions if only to double check your position.
5. Distinguish sense from nonsense. A writer I know expounds brilliantly on the ‘inexorable and ineluctable rightness of wrongness,’ and so great is his magic, you half-believe him. Away from his magnetic presence, however, you begin to wonder if he half-believes it.
6. Accept change as inevitable. Heraclitus said that ‘no man can step in the same river twice.’ Not only does the river change, but the man himself changes as well. Beware the pat solution. A rule good ten years ago may no longer be good enough today.
7. Admit your mistakes. It is a great temptation to rationalize our mistakes into a towering edifice built on a foundation of words. No matter how glittering the fabrication, there is the inevitable risk that someone else will see through it. Build on a foundation of reality – or you will not be building at all.
8. Be simple. Never forget that in most cases, this is the way to be understood by the most people. The greatest laws… the greatest truths… are simple to say… and easy to understand.
9. Be calm. Sensible opinions are seldom reached in a frenzy. Judgment and maturity are more likely to thrive in a contemplative atmosphere than a hurricane. Once you depart from calmness, you risk confusion and chaos.
10. Smile. A time-honored truth. A man with no humor can never have the warmth of personality of the really great. One of the most common failures is loss of perspective. After arduously scaling the molehill, we plant our flag triumphantly at its crest, proclaiming it to be greater than Mount Everest.”
Mr. Batman ends his article with a particularly apt sentence. He writes: “Failure to communicate often arises from grimly looking up at molehills when everybody else is looking down.” Good advice – don’t you think?