Put Down the Coloring Book

Thanks to Janice P. for this week's featured question:

I discovered megadisrupter two weeks ago and have now read every post. It is very informative, but I am offended at the post entitled Templates are for Losers(Editor’s note: read that article here). I’m not a loser and I think templates are useful. I recognize the pitfalls you mention in your article, but those errors are avoided by attention to detail. Do you really expect people to reinvent the wheel every time they put together a presentation?

Yes, but only if they want to be successful.

Phrases like “I don’t want to reinvent the wheel” and “easier said than done” are spoken by people who are in denial about how badly they are hurting their chances for success by using templates. Avoiding errors is not the point; that would only be important if you were still in school handing in a homework assignment. In a business setting, especially if you are trying to be a rock star who disrupts, success requires well-tailored, organically crafted outputs.

If you use templates, you are turning yourself into a child with a coloring book. You are proud of yourself for staying inside the lines, thus creating a false sense of accomplishment. The harsh reality is that your output will not actually gain consensus or beat the competition most of the time.

What is clear from your question is that you perceive crafting documents from scratch as lots of extra hard work. Most template users believe this, but they are wrong. The truth is that crafting documents from scratch is just as fast as using templates, you just have to be good at it. In fact, once your proficiency level is high enough, crafting from scratch is faster because you don’t have to spend time shoe-horning content into an ill-fitting template format.

It is time to get good at crafting from scratch. Here are three tips to get started:

  1. Give more presentations: Simply collaborating with your stakeholders more often by presenting concepts and ideas will really get your creative juices flowing. It will also teach you to make your presentations more intuitive, which delivers your concept more effectively in a shorter amount of time.
  2. Develop documents from scratch for everything you do, even the small stuff: Changes, even small ones, create benefit, loss, and risk. Develop simple, digestible analyses for these factors and present them to stakeholders. Even if you don’t need approval to proceed, you are still providing value and getting better at the same time.
  3. Become proficient with tools that create outputs: It helps to know how to use all the features of MS Office, Adobe Creative Suite, and other output tools. Take classes or teach yourself through online tutorials, then use what you learn quickly so that it sticks. Now it’s part of your arsenal!

Once it becomes natural for you to generate documents from scratch, it doesn’t feel like extra work, but like fun! More importantly, you will get what you want from your stakeholders when you need it.

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