I think it was a 1986 Apple commercial that first introduced me the concept, but it’s a metaphor that has stuck with me for three decades since then:
“It is difficult to remember, when you are up to your neck in alligators, that you originally set out to drain the swamp!”
I find that I spend an awful lot of my life dealing with the alligators, and not enough with swamp-removal.
The idiom, of course, refers to our tendency to spend more time on tangential issues than on our original mission, but I suspect that it’s a universal truth: it’s easier to deal with the here-and-now, rather than the down-the-track.
And yet there ARE ways to slay the gators and drain the swamp at the same time.
I recently read an article where Caroline McMillan asked longtime magazine editor Kate White how she did it.
White says when she first started running Cosmo, the best-selling women’s monthly magazine in the U.S., she began setting aside an hour or so every week to step away and brainstorm about the future.
Sometimes that was reading through emails from readers about what they wanted. Sometimes she would analyze ratings to see which features were most (and least) effective. And sometimes she would just go to a restaurant, order a glass of wine, dream up ideas and record them in a notepad.
She even started doing a 4-day trip each year to London, just to look at how things were done ‘across the pond’ .. and it was on one of those trips that she notice that European mags were organized by category – something she started to introduce to Cosmo on her return.
White says it was getting off campus, getting away, seeing if there was a way to change it to make it more valued … And the sales the next couple of years were really great.
So it’s that simple … just step away from work and do something else?
Well, no, smartypants – its obviously more complex than that.
If you step away and then just faff around on Facebook, then that’s not going to be particularly productive.
But the advice from business leaders all seems to back White up: if you step aside from the day to day – even if it’s only for an hour or so – you start to see the bigger picture, and begin draining that swamp.
The big advantage? As the swamp starts draining, the alligators tend to move off – leaving you with fewer day to day things crises to deal with.
Have you adopted this strategy? What hints and tips can you offer for others who find themselves in a reptilian wrangle?
Let us know .. but make it snappy!
(Yes, I KNOW its a terrible pun – but hey, it’s MY blog, so there! :-))