Thursday, May 26, 2011

The infamous post-it note...friend or foe?

I really like technology…really, I do. I love having a telephone with which I can call a friend from the middle of nowhere by a beautiful lake, though there is not a phone booth in sight. I also really enjoy being able to work using my laptop computer while people-watching at the mall on a Friday afternoon.
Believe it or not, I even appreciate the convenience of the self-checkout line at the grocery store! How many of us used to think, when we were children, how much fun it must be to ring up people’s groceries and bag them up? Now I get to do that any time I want to! But in spite of all this excitement and ease provided by the use of modern gadgets, there is one thing I have simply not been able to part with: the always faithful Post-it note.
Now, I know I could write notes to myself in the memo section of my cell phone. That is, after all, what the memo section is there for, right? Things like grocery lists, reminders to pick up the dry cleaning, perhaps even recipes or directions to that weekend barbecue I was invited to attend. I could store all of this right there in the memo section of my phone. But isn’t that why Dr. Spencer Silver introduced his mildly sticky and oh-so-useful paper invention to the world in 1977? He foresaw people like me with our reminder notes stuck to our computer screens, our front doors, even the outside of our wallets (remember the grocery list?), and he knew he was providing a valuable tool.
So, what is my point with all of this? It’s simple: I like my Post-it notes because they work for me.
In business, as in my personal life, there are things that are just simpler for me…like Post-it notes. They save me time and energy, freeing me to work more productively by helping me to remember important things. The catch is, what works for me, the things that make my daily tasks more easily completed are not the same for everyone else around me.
Just because something works well for one person does not mean it will work well for someone else. It is important to sort through these issues objectively and choose for ourselves what works for each of us. Let’s consider a few basic points that are sometimes cause for raised eyebrows and whispered suggestions that someone just hasn’t caught up with “progress” just yet.

Are you a techno-gadget guru? Some people are. I have a family member who keeps her entire life in her iPhone. Everything from schedules to shopping lists, driving directions, questions to bring up at her next business meeting, even an alarm set to sound off and remind her to file her tax return. 
She carries no paper tablet or notebook, everything is noted in her phone and she likes it that way. It obviously works for her because she is seldom late for anything, she never forgets things she needs to purchase, and yes, her tax return was filed on time. I will not be buying her a set of personalized Post-it notes for Christmas this year.
Other folks are known by baristas and waiters city-wide as “the guy with the laptop computer permanently attached to his right hip” because everywhere they go, they have their computer case in hand. These are the efficiency-minded people who return emails during lunch, send notes to their kids while researching flights and lodging for their next business trip, and scan the latest trade journals online while having a phone conversation with a potential new client. They are accomplished multi-taskers, and their laptop has all the latest high-speed gadgetry that guarantees them rapid communication with minimal delay in obtaining information. Their computer is insured so that repairs are fast and inexpensive, because life without their computer would be no life at all. And guess what? They like it that way.
See where I’m going with this? Some people would rather use a notebook and pen, carry a calculator, keep an address book and directly dial their phone calls, and wait until they are back in the office to check emails or other electronic correspondence. Incidentally, these are the sort of people who probably still use post-it notes. Others are more than willing to jump headlong into modern technological methods of communication and business, leaving no paper trail and having very little need of a recycle bin. Both methods work perfectly for those who are comfortable with each one…neither method is right for both sets of people.
What about basic communication? How do we feel about email versus phone calls, or one-on-one conversations versus addressing an entire group at one time? In an era where productivity is valued and entrepreneurs are always searching for ways to accomplish more in less time, it is important that we recognize that people are not the same as the gadgets we employ every day in our business activities. People are not computers or databanks that can be turned on or off at our discretion, and communication has two sides: the giver of information on one side, the receiver of that information on the other. Both must be considered carefully for successful interaction to occur.
It is easy to get caught up in pursuing the next client, expanding our business base, or viewing people as demographic statistics rather than as individuals…but people are individuals, so every interchange of thoughts should be formed with that in mind. Some people are able to communicate more clearly in writing than in person, while others simply cannot convey an idea clearly unless they are standing in the presence of the person with whom they want to share their thought. Once again, what works for one person may not work for someone else, and this can create bumpy terrain for professional communication.
For example: What if my most effective means of communication is through writing, but the person with whom I need to communicate is not adept at understanding written concepts? Perhaps for them, the easiest method of exchanging ideas is through one-on-one verbal conversation. Now what? As a business person, it falls to me to understand a client or colleague’s preferences in this area, and to then make every effort to communicate in the way that is best for them.
It matters not if I feel that I have conveyed my thoughts to them in the way that is most comfortable for me, if they come away unclear about my intentions or with only minimal understanding of the concept I attempted to convey.  In other words, if the other person can’t “get it”, then I haven’t done an effective job of communicating.
As entrepreneurs who support the efforts of our colleagues and co-laborers in the world of business, can we recognize that there is usually more than one way to get something done, and that it is rarely an issue of a “right way” or a “wrong way” to reach the desired end? Everyone has different styles, different preferences, and different methods that work for them. Making room for these differences allows us all to function at our best and also invites the beauty of individuality into the often mundane tasks that fill certain portions of our time.
I won’t poke fun at your affection for your iPhone if you don’t tease me about my affinity for Post-it notes... we should get along just fine.

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