If Simple Works, Let It Work

Good morning! I hope your day is off to a great start.

When you have a steady stream of traffic, traffic lights are the best way to create havoc. Partly because stopped cars move a lot more slowly than moving cars, and partly because the average driver hasn’t yet figured out the concept of red and green lights. And forget about yellow lights. Have you ever watched a figure-8 race? Let me paint a picture. It’s a sideways game of chicken.

Every now and then, traffic engineers come up with innovative ways to keep traffic moving, or at least to minimize the number of cars backed up onto the freeway because the lights are timed to funnel more traffic into McDonalds. Hey, you’ve gotta have priorities.

One of the more effective approaches I’ve seen is steeply angled traffic patterns that allow cars to merge from the exit ramp onto the intersecting roadway without slowing down. Instead of riding the brake through that sharp left turn off the exit ramp, you floor it and race through at something shy of light speed. All they need now is bumpers to keep you in your own lane.

Today I saw Louisiana’s attempt at genius. Okay, I sat in it for ten minutes as a semi driver at the front of the line worked up the courage to give it a try. Ever seen a roundabout? They suck in the middle of town where everybody’s driving 10 mph anyway. But it takes a special kind of imbecile to put one at the bottom of an exit ramp. We’re talking seriously gifted.

Getting into a roundabout is bad enough. You have to wait for an opening that’s not there, and the second you hit the gas you have to cross both lanes to get into the middle. Unless you’re taking the first exit to the right, in which case you could have avoided the whole thing by just driving across the sidewalk. People will move. Trust me.

Once you get into the middle, the real fun begins. At each entry point (there are at least four), somebody will be joining the fun from your right. You know, in the lane you need to jump into at the last second so you can get off the merry-go-round. Unless you’re willing to knock somebody out of your way, you could be stuck in the middle for days.

Now, take that same roundabout and add in a “special” twist. I use that word freely, with full knowledge of the many ways it may be interpreted. So, you’re in the roundabout and you need to turn right? No problem. At each of the four points, you can turn right from whichever lane you’re in. As long as nobody crosses a painted line, you’re good. What could possibly go wrong?

Okay, it goes without saying that I won’t be taking that exit again any time soon. Once was enough. I’m sure some traffic engineer is still sitting in the corner laughing about that one. For all I know, he got a raise. In fact, I bet he was promoted to school zones and railroad crossings. I’ve seen a few of those that could use some work.

So, how does any of this fit into the topic of motivational writing? It doesn’t. Some of these are just for me. But while you’re driving that endless circle in the middle of the roundabout, it gives you plenty of time to think about problem-solving, and the difference between ingenuity and stupidity. It also makes you realize your car will eventually get scratched anyway.

Sometimes, the simplest things are the most effective. You know, like traffic lights. It’s been more than a century since the first one was installed in Cleveland, and last time I checked they move a lot of cars through there every day. Are there more glamorous ways to control traffic? Sure. But sometimes, the tried and true is the best approach.

In my business, we teach people to duplicate what others are doing. It’s a business plan that’s been around for more than 60 years, and it still works today for one basic reason – it’s simple. That doesn’t mean it’s easy … just that it’s not rocket science. And every time somebody tries to improve on it, they always end up back where they started. Because simple works.

There will be times when somebody shows you how to do something, and your first thought is “There has to be a better way!” Maybe. The quest for a better way has led to millions of innovative improvements. But a round wheel still rolls better than a wheel of any other shape. Food for thought.

There’s nothing wrong with looking for a better way. But don’t change things just for the sake of change. Sometimes the old way is still the best way. Get good at that and you may not need anything better.

That’s all for now. Have an awesome day!

Keep It Simple – Then Make It Easy

Good morning! I hope your day is off to a great start.

Mom always used to say I have diarrhea of the mouth. Don’t read that again – you got it right the first time. Seems there would be kinder ways to tell somebody their breath isn’t minty fresh. And no amount of Listerine made it any better. Believe me, I tried. All that did was give me medicine breath. Turns out Mom was just saying I talk a lot. Well, duh!

If you’ve been following these posts any time at all, you’ve probably figured that out all on your own. I’ve never been at a loss for words. Even at work, when somebody else writes a 12-page functional requirements document, mine is 50 pages. If I’d been paid by the word all these years, I’d be rich.

There’s something to be said for getting the point across clearly. Nobody has ever accused me of producing work that lacks detail. The problem is getting people to actually read it. Even the developers who need the information toss it aside and say, “Just give me the Cliff Notes version.”

Years ago, I was a lead writer on a program writing Air Force maintenance manuals. Some of my writers would agonize over which word to use, or whether to use a comma. I always told them, think of how the technician will use this book when it’s finished. They’ll take it out of the box, stack it on the floor, and climb on top of the stack to reach the paper cups on the top shelf.

Not a really comforting thought, especially if you live directly under an Air Force base landing approach. But it does put things in perspective. Keep it simple. Nobody cares about punctuation when they’ve got a wrench in one hand and grease is dripping out of the landing gear motor all over their freshly starched uniform. They just want to get the job done.

You see, the job is simple – it’s just not easy. We talked about that last week, but what does it really mean? Simply stated (like how I threw that in there?), it means it’s not rocket science. I can explain it so anybody can understand. But beyond the explanation, it still takes a little skill to make it happen. And that skill comes from experience.

In fact, our procedural manuals were written on that very premise. We would bold key words in each instruction so the more experienced technician could just focus on those words. “Tighten the attaching bolts in an alternating pattern to 16 ft. lbs.”  A pretty neat concept, if you ask me. But do you think anybody even noticed the spelling in the middle?

Okay, you can stop reading the sentence – I didn’t misspell anything. I’m just making a point. Sometimes, we get so bogged down in the details that we overlook the simplicity of what we’re trying to do. And let me tell you, I’m the king of that domain. I can overthink anything. It keeps me from making any huge mistakes.

The problem is it keeps me from not making mistakes as well. You see, there’s a point where we need to stop thinking and start doing. Are there things I’ll need to consider along the way? You bet. And fate has a way of putting those things in front of you at just the right time. Does it matter what you’ll do if a traffic light twelve miles away turns red? No. Not until you get there.

But if you don’t start the engine and put your foot on the gas now, you’ll never get far enough to find out. Planning isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but too much planning stands in the way of action. At some point, we need to actually do the work. And that’s when we begin to find ways to make it easy.

My business is built on a very simple concept. Anybody can do it. The same is true of just about everything I do, from my day job to writing these posts and changing the oil in my car. But none of them are particularly easy. They take practice. And after a while, you get really good.

Learn the concepts, and then put them into practice. Handle obstacles as they arise, based on what you’ve learned along the way. Taking something that’s simple and making it easy is just a matter of doing it until it becomes second nature. You’ll encounter new challenges as you grow. But with each success, you’re that much better equipped to overcome whatever may come your way.

That’s all for now. Have an awesome day!

© 2020 Dave Glardon – All rights reserved