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Don’t just do something, sit there

Let me ask you a question.

Thinking back over your last full working day, how long did you spend doing just that? Thinking.

a) More than two hours? Oh, come on!

b) Between five minutes and half an hour? More likely.

c) Too busy? You belong to the 99.9% club.

The sad fact is that we’re all too busy to think. I don’t mean that quick daydream about the gorgeous new hunk/hunkette in sales. Or the idle speculation about what you’d do if you won the lottery.

No, I mean the creative kind of thinking. Either where you start off from a challenge: “How can I get more business this month?” Or where you just free-associate, wondering about how the world works.

Occasionally there’s an employer who actively encourages its people to spend time doing nothing (though let’s be honest, thinking – really thinking – is hardly doing nothing). But my experience is that the more likely response is, “Oi! Stop lying around and get on with something.”

But without occasional pauses for thought, how will we ever innovate? (I believe that’s quite a fashionable concept in management circles these days.) How will we ever go beyond ‘the way we do things around here’? How will we ever keep ourselves interested in doing our jobs?

Think about headlines

Let’s take an example. Conference marketing. You may not be involved in this sector but that doesn’t matter. Just go with me for a minute or two.

Most conference companies (including the ones I work for) tend to use a standard format for their promotions. That extends to the headline.

Suppose you are running a conference on wireless networks. And it’s going to be held in 2006. I’m willing to bet my favourite Taylor guitar against your signed Buster Keaton print from The General, that your headline is…wait for it…

Wireless Networks

Lest you think I am merely being critical, I should point out that that’s what I do for my conference clients. It’s in the brief. But what about trying to engage the reader’s own imagination? What else could we write? How about…

In just 24 hours you could meet the wireless clients who will get you your first Porsche

Give us 24 hours of your time and we’ll help your wireless network take wing

The world’s biggest wireless network companies are waiting to meet you

Golf handicap suffering? Come to Wireless Networksand improve it

(Oh, and do a little business too)

Turn on the wireless

…and hear how you could double your profits next year

Just a thought.

A new way to gather customer insights

And how about your customers. I tend to batter on about gaining customer insights. My usual tack is to adjure you to go and meet some. So how about this instead.

Sit back and relax.

Close your eyes.

Call them to mind.

Imagine them talking to you. What do they look like? How do they sound?

Ask them about themselves.

In other words, use your imagination. It’s how the world’s greatest (and, actually, crappiest) novelists do it. You’ll find more vibrant, closely described and realistic characters in Middlemarch, American Psycho or To Kill a Mockingbird than in many advertising briefs.

Not real people? Sure, I’ll give you that. But then, nor are the designated recipients of much business and sales writing, to judge from the drear, spiritless tat foisted on them by too-busy-to-think corporate writers.

And my point is?

In today’s time-deprived universe, many people struggle to think about what to eat for lunch. Luckily pre-written sandwich menus let them off the hook. But what about business? If all we can manage is to order up “the usual” – another BLT marketing campaign – we are selling ourselves, our business and our customers short.

Which means we need to start thinking again. Wondering. Daydreaming. Letting our synapses flash for a while without expecting ‘deliverables’.

So the next time your boss asks you what you’re doing. Just tell them. “I’m thinking.”

Categories: Freelance life and Maslen on Marketing.

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