Long-time readers of this monthly newsletter know that I will occasionally write on an idea I have not explored to its ultimate conclusion. I do this because the idea is intriguing and worthy of open consideration, despite its nascent existence.
This is one of those –
I spent the past week leading a client’s strategic planning retreat on a tiny island 45 kilometers off the eastern coast of Nicaragua. Little Corn Island is like no place I’ve ever been. On its 900 square acres there’s not one single road, which is OK as there are no motorized vehicles. Bicycles substitute for cars. Wheelbarrows serve as trucks. Electricity is provided by solar panels and generators. Our hotel has one computer, connected to the Internet by satellite. It works when the power is on, which last Tuesday it was not.
At about 8:15 Tuesday morning, the power went out. No computer, no water, no fan. My cell phone had been out of range for two days already.
The lights had gone out previously but they normally came right back on. This time, the hotel said it was a problem with the generator and no one had any idea when it would be repaired.
I found a shady place with a decent breeze, picked up a pencil and did some old-fashioned, hand-powered “analog” word processing.
Over the span of 4 hours, I did by hand – in slow motion – what I had planned to zing out in 30 minutes on my computer. I didn’t find something else to do until power was restored, I just did what needed to be done – by hand, at a much slower pace.
And you know what? The end-product was better. It took longer, but it was more intuitive and met the needs of the client in ways that a “digital” effort might not have done.
Vine-ripened tomatoes are immensely superior to their artificially matured “hot house” cousins because chemical reactions that result in the perfect fruit aren’t rushed on the vine.
Because things are so automated these days, it is too easy for us to pound thoughts into our keyboards, without really thinking about them. And, just like hot-house tomatoes, our end-product suffers for lack of time to ripen.
So, take a moment to think about this –

What would happen if your company had a “black-out period” when everyone in the place was forced to work in “analog mode” – by hand?

  • No computer access – turn it off at the server.
  • No phones – find a way to kill the ringer.
  • No copier, no musak, nothing electronic.

Tell them to spend the time writing letters, reviewing agendas, thinking through strategies, looking for ways to be more effective (rather than simply more efficient).

As I said at the beginning, this idea hasn’t been fully explored, but it certainly has potential.
How often should you do this? I don’t have a clue what would work for you, but after this week on Little Corn I am going to try and go “unplugged” for about 4 hours a week. I wish I were the CEO of a big company so I could pull this off and watch what happens on a grand scale.
At your next staff meeting –
Read this to your team and ask:

  1. What benefits might we enjoy by doing something like this?
  2. How extreme should we be with the elimination of electronic tools?
  3. When are we going to have Seybert lead a strategy retreat for us on a tiny Caribbean island?