On Turtles and Project Management

During my decade-plus tenure as marketing director for a small New England college, I used to give each member of my staff a small plastic turtle. Sometimes a new hire would think I was crazy, but usually, after a few months, she or he would come to value the message, which I deemed Herwitz’s Turtle Principle. It had three parts, and it went like this:

Take the Time to Do the Job Right the First Time
Often we were under tremendous pressure to jump and do and produce, but whenever I sped up our project schedule to accommodate, one of two things would happen: we’d make foolish mistakes when we rushed, or the internal clients would inevitably change their minds about what they wanted. Or both.

So I would tell my staff to take the time to do the job right the first time around, because otherwise we would end up spending twice as much time fixing it. While this approach is counter-intuitive to today’s instant gratification culture, it worked extremely well. Our marketing materials were always of the highest quality, and we were one of the most productive departments in the college.

Let Unreasonable Demands Roll Off Your Shell
Committee reviews are often the death of creative work. We always listened carefully to our clients’ concerns, but when they asked for modifications that we knew were ill-advised—either bad design or simply the wrong way to get desired results—we would do our best to explain the issue and then proceed with what we knew would work. The successful outcomes validated our judgment and built our reputation for excellence.

Pace Yourself Through the Day
No one can be creative on demand, 24/7. I always encouraged my staff to take their lunch breaks (though I was not a great role model on this one, as I often preferred to eat at my desk) and to get up and take a short break if they needed to clear their heads. I’ve always found that a walk outside is one of the best ways to free a creative logjam—certainly much more effective than staring at a computer screen. And some of my best ideas and solutions came to me during my long daily commute on the Mass Pike.

I’m sure the little plastic turtles raised a few eyebrows among my colleagues. But they became a point of pride for my team. We knew from experience that the Turtle Principle worked to everyone’s advantage, in the long run. And as every child learns from Aesop, it’s the tortoise, not the hare, who comes out ahead in the end.

Credit: Free photos from acobox.com

 

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