Who Has Time to Think? – You’re the Boss Blog – NYTimes.com

 In Company Culture/People At Work


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August 5, 2010, 7:00 am

Who Has Time to Think?


Watching the Tour de France this summer, I found myself yearning for the single-minded focus of having one thing to do and doing it really well.

In the ad business, as with many others, we are always learning about new businesses and industries and deciding which of the many constantly evolving media and technology tools are the best fit for each client’s challenges. That diversity is what draws many of us to the business, but it’s also a challenge. It’s like studying for an exam and never knowing when you’ve studied enough. All you know is that tomorrow the cycle will start over again.

My day usually begins with digital triage. Before I get out of bed, I reach for my iPhone and check e-mail, news feeds and social media sites. We subscribe to dozens of e-mail bulletins, must-reads about branding, media, social media, search-engine optimization, search-engine marketing, e-mail marketing and new-business acquisition. And then there are the business and ad industry trade publications — not to mention trade publications for our clients.


I’m guilty of being a drive-by reader who takes in just enough (headline and first paragraph) to be dangerous. If you add in required reading to take care of client needs, and generating and responding to e-mails, you can just about blow through your day. What’s missing, I’m finding, is the time to process this information, to synthesize it so that we add the value of thought, and we’re not just copying and pasting ideas.

Years ago in my corporate life, one of my mentors, John Farinacci, ran a division at a large contract research organization. Before the days of cellphones, texting, e-mails and the Internet, he instituted what he called “the quiet hour.” During this time, office doors were shut: no walking the halls, no phone calls, no meetings. He took some ribbing for it – some suggested his floor was in “time out” — but his staff loved it. “I read somewhere that a person can be more productive in one uninterrupted quiet hour than they are in a regular three- to four-hour period,” said Mr. Farinacci, who heads up his own research organization today, ResearchPoint.

I think he was ahead of his time. What I would give for the mental quiet space to dedicate uninterrupted thought to our clients and their businesses each day. But the business world moves fast, and so must we. At least, that’s what we’ve been programmed to think.

We had a little internal revolt last week at the agency. Some clients wanted very quick turnaround on branding strategies, creative and tactics — critical undertakings that no one should rush through. But I understand the pressures of business, and I committed to doing the work quickly.

Our account service and creative staff members, proud branding strategists that they are, were deflated. They let me know how strongly they felt it compromised good work, and I shared my concerns about getting our clients what they needed by their deadline.

The staff members seemed to get that, but they still made a case for having the time to synthesize their learnings about the brands and their goal markets. Given time to think this through, I agreed with them. It’s like letting wine breathe — the more oxygen we can give a brand challenge, the bigger the ideas that emerge. The best generally come to us outside the office, as we mow our lawns, cook dinner, drive on an open road or become consumers, too. We made a good case for an extension to a client who granted us the extra time.

We’re finding that many more companies seem to be rushing through branding and other business decisions to go live now in order to generate revenue. But if someone has invested two or more years to create a business model, wouldn’t a few more weeks to do the critical thinking necessary to get important elements right give us all a better return on our investments? Without good thought, we are not adding value. And if we’re not adding value, we are all simply commoditizing our businesses, which compromises more than just our individual companies.

Can we afford not to take the time to think?

King Arthur: “But even the thought, ‘I’m not thinking a thought,’ is thinking, isn’t it?”

Merlin: “Yes, and thinking is the sort of thing you should get into the habit of doing as often as possible.”

MP Mueller is the founder of Door Number 3, a boutique advertising agency in Austin. Follow Door Number 3 on Facebook.

via Who Has Time to Think? – You’re the Boss Blog – NYTimes.com.

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