In his book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, Dale Carnegie tells the story of Leon Shimkin, whose business was spinning into a cycle of unproductive time and meetings. In Shimkin’s own words:
“For fifteen years I spent almost half of every business day holding conferences, discussing problems. Should we do this or that—or nothing at all? We would get tense; twist in our chairs; walk the floor; argue and go around in circles. When night came, I would be utterly exhausted. I fully expected to go on doing this sort of thing for the rest of my life. I had been doing it for fifteen years, and it never occurred to me that there was a better way of doing it. If anyone had told me that I could eliminate three fourths of all the time I spent in those worried conferences, and three fourths of my nervous strain—I would have thought he was a wild-eyed, slap-happy, armchair optimist. Yet I devised a plan that did just that. I have been using this plan for eight years. It has performed wonders for my efficiency, my health, and my happiness.”
While it sounds like Shimkin waved a magic wand, what he did was actually very simple. First, he stopped the procedure he had been using in his conferences for fifteen years—a procedure that began with his troubled associates reciting all the details of what had gone wrong, and ended up by asking: “What shall we do?”
Second, Shimkin made a new rule—a rule that everyone who wished to present a problem to him must first prepare and submit a memorandum answering four questions:
- What is the problem? — No longer would time be wasted in conference rooms without anyone knowing specifically and concretely what the real problem was.
- What is the cause of the problem? — Time spent in conferences would focus on clearly identifying the conditions that lay at the root of the problem.
- What are all possible solutions of the problem? — The days of arguing over one possible solution would be over. All the various things that could be done to attack the problem would be written down and discussed.
- What solution do you suggest? — People that presented problems would be required to think through all possible solutions and then present the solution he or she recommends.
Try applying Leon Shimkin’s rules for approaching a problem to your business and see how a little structure can turn worry into productivity!
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