Resist talking about the work…

Here’s some awesome advice from a colleague.  It goes something like “Resist talking about the work.  Do the work and clarity will come.”

It’s too easy to sit around a table spinning and debating, refiing and tweaking an idea or an approach before we’re ready to write it down.  To let it live.  And in those minutes (and sometimes hours) we’ve taken seeds of ideas, just tiny inkling of what could be, and rounded their corners effectively sucking the possibiity right out of what they could become.  We kill things before they live because we demand of ourselves perfect ideas before we get into action.  We want clarity before we move.

But, what I’ve seen over and over is that we can get clarity from the movement.  We don’t have to wait.  In DOING the work we can move through the abiguity by reserving judgement on our first ideas and just writing them the f*%& down for everyone to see.  Writing them down, drawing them in all their incomplete and half-thought-out glory.  But this takes courage.  Taking early ideas out of the shadows of the absract and putting them somewhere shareable takes willingness to be imperfect and wrong.  And, in general, we don’t like to be wrong.

Here are some things you can do to get into motion on your incomplete ideas:

  • Make wrong ok by keeping the stakes low and celebrating movement, not perfection (you know how this feels when it’s working).
  • Define a set of operating principles. For example (we won’t move forward with any one idea until we have a minimum of 5 written down- this may grease the skids on geting more ideas down and less focus of the quality of each).
  • Put a pen in the hand of someone talking and ask “could you draw that?” and just see what the heck happens.
  • Let there be silence. When someone has the courage to write something down give it a breath and actually look at it before you comment or, don’t comment at all.  Just add another idea to the bucket.
  • More is good.  Don’t stop until there’s a natural stop.  You don’t have to decide on the best idea or limit the list to the best of the best before you figure out which is the best.  Just get shit down and then look at it…later…when there’s lots of the good and ridiculous up on the board.

Warning: building a habit of getting out of the abstract and putting your ideas in the world may lead to:

  • a sense of joy and collabration
  • generative momentum
  • better ideas from combining many ideas
  • useful themes
  • new projects and initiatives unrelated to the task at hand (bonus!)

Taking the perspective of “let’s see where this leads us” vs. “what’s the best thing to do” when you’re early in your thinking on a project is a great antidote to the stop energy of perfectionism and desire to never be wrong.  It’ll help you and your colleagues and the challenge at hand get the best of the people in the room even if the best ideas start as the worst ideas.  Just put a pen in your hand and draw that incomplete thought.  Draw, write and list until you’ve made clarity.  Resist talking about the work.  Do the work and clarity will come.


  1. Fantastic. Wish I could apply this more. Coordination sometimes requires more than twelve separate people all executing on their own idea of what should be “worked on”. And then “coordination” often turns into talk, and explanation, and rationalization, and re-explanation. Great thoughts though on just digging in and building, and demo-ing.

    1. In my mind thinking through to know what your thought is part of getting to writing it down- where I see people get stuck is when they have the idea and will talk about it instead of putting it out visually for us to see.

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