Stop Applying Old Methods to New Problems. It's Time to Start From Scratch.
It's scary to wipe the slate clean, and start over. But sometimes, trying to build on what you've done before can hold you back.
Imagine that you cleared your calendar of meetings, and then only added back the ones that mattered. Even better, what if you scheduled those new meetings for only the amount of time they required?
You don't need to guess the answer. Work management company Asana ran an experiment just like this. The results: Some meetings disappeared, and some 30-minute meetings shrunk to 15 minutes. In total, people saved an average of 11 hours per month — totaling three and a half workweeks per year!
What can we learn from this? There's an obvious answer, of course: We have too many meetings. But we already knew that.
So here's my bigger takeaway: There's great value in starting from scratch.
We often live our lives and do our work based on layers of precedent. We do this because we've always done that.
But what if we're compounding earlier mistakes? We'd never know — which is how we end up with check-in meetings that nobody needs, but that inspire other check-in meetings, until we're so busy checking in that we're not doing the work we're checking in about!
There's a cliché solution to this: You ask, "Why is this being done?" And if the answer is, "Because that's the way it's always been done," then it's time for a change.
But how do you excavate your habits and assumptions, layer by layer, to determine what's worth keeping? It's not easy.
That's why I love Asana's experiment. They basically asked everyone to rebuild their day from scratch, instead of trying to fix their already-existing days. It's like asking, "What would this look like if you built it for the first time?" That way, there's no going backward to investigate what's wrong. Instead, there's only going forward — building what you need for now.
This thinking can drive major decisions. For example, it reminds me of a conversation I had with Reggie Fils-Aimé, the former president and chief operating officer of Nintendo of America and author of the new book Disrupting the Game, as we talked about one of his greatest battles there.
It happened around the 2006 release of Wii, a Nintendo gaming console. As you might remember, Wii had revolutionary motion-sensor controls. One of its first games, Wii Sports, put those controls to amazing use: Players could swing their hands to play baseball, golf, tennis, boxing, and more.
Nintendo planned to sell Wii Sports separately, because that's how Nintendo operated. Although there was a time when the Super Nintendo came bundled with Super Mario World, the company had long stopped doing that. "Their mentality was, 'Our developers are working hard to create the software, and we want to monetize it,'" Fils-Aimé said.
But when Fils-Aimé prepared for the Wii launch, he started from scratch by basically asking: What do we need to make this successful? "If we wanted to be truly disruptive," he told me, "if we wanted to foundationally change the way consumers thought about the system, then we needed to enable the player to have a great experience." Wii Sports was the best way to do that, so he wanted to bundle it in with the Wii itself — essentially giving it away for free.
This sparked a giant debate at Nintendo. Traditionalists saw a missed revenue opportunity. Fils-Aimé saw an investment that would pay off in future purchases.
Ultimately, Nintendo tried it both ways. Wii Sports was bundled in for free in America and Europe. It was sold separately in Japan. The results: America and Europe drove adoption much faster and led the world in Wii business performance overall.
Fils-Aimé wasn't beholden to what came before him. That's why his plan worked — because it was built for now, instead of being an old plan applied to now.
If you are reading this, you're a builder of something. But to allow our creations to thrive, we must be willing to rebuild as well, down to the micro level. So try it. Ask yourself: "If I want to accomplish my goals today, what can I build to help get me there?"
That's what you build next.
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