Fast Company

A "Don't Bother" List Could Be Your Winning Strategy

I’m reading one of the most lucid business books I’ve come across in quite some time. It’s Out of Poverty by Paul Polak, founder of International Development Enterprises. In it, Polak outlines a number of compelling reasons why businesses must consider the burgeoning market of the world’s other 90 percent – the percentage of the world’s population that is poor. I’d recommend reading the book to learn first-hand about the practical ideas he offers that I believe would present viable approaches for any business -- from socially-directed organizations to corporate multinationals. In Out of Poverty, Polak identifies a “don’t bother” list, and I think this might be an effective idea for addressing all kinds of business challenges that we are faced with every day.

Remember, Polak focuses on increasing wealth for billions of the world’s poor, so imagine the list you could come up with that would help zoom in on what matters most at your business, organization, team, or family, for that matter. This approach brings what’s important into laser-like focus, and, I believe, elicits the emotion and passion that initiates action.

For example, if Human Resources tells you they can’t find the “right talent” or qualified “diversity” candidates to include in their recruitment outreach, tell them:

1.Don’t bother if you’re going to sit in your office making fruitless phone calls, instead of meeting with organizations, events, individuals, and generally being creative about identifying the highly talented folks that do in fact exist.

(On the “diversity” issue, for example, a simple conversation with any existing employee of color on staff, could easily offer a few avenues to pursue, or even actual names of several qualified candidates.)

Here’s another:

2. Don’t bother claiming “we value our customers” when calls to the “customer care” department gets me directed to endless press-this-or-that-number. Or after you’ve paid your hard-earned money in exchange for goods from a store, the check-out person waits for you to thank him or her.

3. Don’t bother telling me with your tag line “how much you appreciate my business,” if you can’t even teach your front-line folks the basics of common courtesy. Hint: if this were done right, it might actually encourage me to return cheerfully to your store instead of one of your competitors, when given the choice.

If a design firm is thinking to rebrand itself while ignore its prevalent reputation of being too-cool-for-clients in the way the receptionist answers the phone (assuming you’re not sent to voice mail purgatory):

4. Don’t bother to rebrand if you don’t comprehend that clients’ first point-of-contact with your company is telling.

At ReBrand we were inspired to put together a list of 20 Mistakes Marketers Make When They Rebrand. It seems that calling out mistakes, similar to using a “don’t bother” list, gets more folks to pay attention and take action.

One of the suggestions within 20 Mistakes – number 6 -- is navigate your own website, call your own call center, or have a friend do so. Sounds like basic common sense that would likely get a “yeah, yeah, we know” response, right? Well, you’d be absolutely shocked at how many NEVER do that – from the very bottom all the way up to the top. What an obvious way to learn about the agony and hoops we put the customers “we care about” through. It’s so difficult for me to believe that such inauthenticity exists among our great brands, that I coined the term brandcredible, to represent those that work hard to walk their talk.

And now, for one more “don’t bother.” If a business claims that “employees are our most important assets”:
5.Don’t bother if you never listen to what they have to say, and continue to practice top-down introduction of policies and decisions, then wonder why they aren’t aligned with the organizational mission.

The list could go on, but the point is that this type of list has magic in it. It sorts concepts into the concrete from the theoretical, and can lead us closer to breaking the business-as-usual quagmire.

Whatever business or industry you’re in, what would be on your “don’t bother list”? Let’s see if thinking this way helps in paying attention and being more “present” with your clients -- a concept I borrowed from Bill Hill, chair of MetaDesign -- and taking real actionable steps.

Anaezi Modu, Founder
ReBrand http://www.rebrand.com Now accepting entries for the 2009 ReBrand 100 Global Awards - deadline: September 24, 2008.
Recognizing the world's most effective brand transformations.

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5 Comments

  • paige arnof-fenn

    I always say there are plenty "To Do" lists out there for everything imaginable but what is truly valuable are the "To Don't" lists where you can learn what has not worked. We start much further along the path when we can learn from other's mistakes, we'll never live long enough to make them all ourselves ;-)

  • paige arnof-fenn

    I always say there are plenty "To Do" lists out there for everything imaginable but what is truly valuable are the "To Don't" lists where you can learn what has not worked. We start much further along the path when we can learn from other's mistakes, we'll never live long enough to make them all ourselves ;-)

  • paige arnof-fenn

    I always say there are plenty "To Do" lists out there for everything imaginable but what is truly valuable are the "To Don't" lists where you can learn what has not worked. We start much further along the path when we can learn from other's mistakes, we'll never live long enough to make them all ourselves ;-)

  • bill darbyshire

    Good post and very much from the real world.

    It reminds me of Brad Kuvin's Editorial from February '03 Metalforming Magazine: "Trust: Here Has It Gone?" (http://archive.metalformingmag....

    His Editorial would have been "spot-on" in 1961 (when I started work as a 17 year-old Apprentice Machinist), it valid when Brad wrote it in 2003, and it's still valid in 2008.

    Many of the problems in American Business can be traced to a lack of trust: trust of the employees, customers and business "partners". It's a lack of respect for the very people that businesses need!

    Yes, most of the corporations I've emailed (as a consumer)with questions or concerns have never responded! Simple questions like "Where can I by Mountain Blend Coffee" (Nestle's) go into the black hole.

    So you are so right, and I agree with Christopher Butler on his points too.

    Thanks to both.

  • Christopher Butler

    Anaezi,

    I like the "don't bother" approach, and can quickly think of a few applications in the web development/social media such as:

    Don't bother updating your corporate website with your latest positioning revisions and stock imagery if you still haven't figured out who will be reading it. Knowing how to say what you do is only helpful if you know who you're saying it to.

    Don't bother blogging if you're not going to commit time and resources to researching your material, writing well and connecting with others for the long term. If it's too much commitment and you just want to vent every few months, fire up a Word doc and go nuts- just make sure to delete when you're through.

    Don't bother posting pictures online of *everything* you did over the weekend if you plan on being taken seriously on Monday morning. Some things are best kept private.

    Of course, one of the pitfalls of the "don't bother" approach is it can be dangerous for a sarcasm-prone person like myself...

    Thanks for another good post!