Coach’s Challenge for 10/19/09

Good day, team,

Lately, I’ve been on a crusade to make things less complicated. I use the word crusade because I’ve had some pretty extreme ideas about how to do this. I announced to my husband at dinner the other evening that if I had a large tractor with a big scooper on the front, I would plow through our house and scoop up everything that was not absolutely necessary to keep (which is much more than I’d like to admit) and take it all away. Of course, he asked, “Where would you dump it?” but that’s another question.

This new attitude cropped up after my recent weekend on silent retreat. If you have nothing to do but just sit and “be” and you remain quiet enough, you begin to see how simple things really are and how the the mind likes to complicate matters. I notice that once my mind has hold of an idea, it loves to explore it, chew on it, expand it, disagree with it, analyze it, add to it, etc.

Not that there’s anything wrong with this activity, goodness knows: Many great inventions and discoveries have been made though just this process. But when the mind takes something that is relatively simple and then creates all kinds of complications around it, the process can complicate our lives and the lives of others.

Here’s a good example. In the past six months, I’ve bid on two projects for the City of Portland. Having not worked for the city before and wanting to find ways to give back to the community, I thought working on a coaching project would be a good experience. The first Request for Proposal—a nasty, gnarly document that was extremely complicated and laborious—required 24 hours to complete.

It was painful to respond to every question, some of which didn’t make sense and others of which were impossible to answer given the information provided. I realized halfway through completion that if this was any indication of what it would be like to work for the city, I might not be interested. I had to laugh when, at the end, I was asked to submit my bid on double-sided paper, to be more environmentally conscious. Too bad that same standard hadn’t been applied to the eight pages of instructions.

I wasn’t exactly disappointed when my bid envelope was returned unopened with a letter saying the city had run out of funds for the project the day after the bids were received. I held the still-sealed envelope in my hand and thought, “Well, I guess I’ll chalk this up to my one and only experience attempting to do some civic duty.” The entire exercise seemed like a waste of my time, but then again, I often don’t know why I do things until much later, so perhaps I went through all of this for a reason.

Two weeks ago I received an e-mail from another department in the City of Portland. This group sent out an informal RFP via e-mail that consisted of five topics to address, three questions to answer and a request for a resume. It took be about an hour to put everything together, which I sent back by e-mail.

When I was done, I realized that the information I had e-mailed was pretty much like the five two-sided pages I had completed a few months before, but in a much simpler and more concise form. The big difference was that one agency had made its request incredibly complicated, whereas the other had streamlined the process down to its essential details.

Herein lies your challenge this week. At work, see if you continue to go through a complicated process every day just because that’s the way it’s always been done. Are you complicating a task that’s actually relatively simple, just because you think it requires more intellectual rigor? How about your instructions to others? Are you confusing people by asking too many questions and getting farther and farther away from the core issue?

If you find yourself sitting in a meeting and can’t remember why it was called, ask yourself, “What’s the real issue here?  Have we gone down a road that leads us in a much more complicated direction? Are we spending too much time on something that’s really not all that important and, in doing so, side-tracking the real issues? For example, have we just spent the last hour wrangling over the issue of where to hold the company Christmas party when our sales have slipped for the fourth month in a row? Can we table everyone’s opinions for a moment to clarify what we’re really doing here?”

I’ve developed a new mantra that seems to be working for me: simpler, easier, better. Try saying that to yourself this week and see what happens.

Have a good week!

Kathleen

Kathleen Doyle-White
Pathfinders Coaching
(503) 296-9249

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