“If I were given one hour to save the planet, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute resolving it.”
That quote often gets attributed to Albert Einstein – but he almost certainly didn’t say it. There are now so many variations that the exact words probably can’t be traced to anyone.
One version of the quote (from 1973 – 12 years after Einstein’s death) split the hour into three parts: “If I were given an hour in which to do a problem upon which my life depended, I would spend 40 minutes studying it, 15 minutes reviewing it, and 5 minutes solving it.”
I’m sure you’ve all heard variations of this quote. Has it ever felt right to you? There’s just something about it that makes you go, “Uh, no.”
I mean, really. If you learned on Monday that a crisis would affect your company or your family by Sunday – would you spend all week – until 10 p.m. Saturday – just thinking about it? “Uh, no.”
Let’s hope we’re never in a situation where we’ve only got an hour to save the planet or our lives.
A similar quote, often attributed to Abraham Lincoln, goes: “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I’ll spend the first four sharpening the ax.”
The point of both of these quotes isn’t about how much time to spend thinking and preparing. It’s about taking at least some time to understand and prepare for the challenges you face.
I’ve found that most businesses aren’t terribly rigorous in defining the problems they’re trying to solve, even when they’re working on new content strategy processes, building new owned media platforms, or developing new roles and responsibilities for the marketing team.
I see this most often at one particular point of content and marketing management. One of the biggest challenges in marketing content strategy is the conflation of content planning with production planning.
Marketing teams are so worried about failing to produce some requisite number of assets that they don’t take the time to ask whether they should create a particular piece of content. To paraphrase that great line from Jurassic Park – they’re so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they don’t stop to think if they should.
They typically skip the “planning” stage of the workflow and go directly to the “how are we going to meet all the content asset requests flooding our inbox?” stage.
But the real problem isn’t the struggle to create the amount of content requested. It’s the reluctance to stop and think about what we should create.
Marketing teams must apply the business discipline of planning to their content creation.
Content planning means bringing people together regularly (not just once a year) to think about what should be done and (most importantly) what shouldn’t. It involves considering content ideas, needs, updates, and requests without (yet) worrying about how to get it all done.
I hear this pushback all the time: “It sounds like that will slow us down. What if we don’t then have time to create the content we want to create? We have channels to feed!”
Let’s be clear. I’m not suggesting that you spend 98.3% of your time in the planning process. (That’s the equivalent of spending 59 minutes thinking about a problem and one minute solving it. #HeDidTheMath.
Spoiler alert: Yes, it will slow you down.
The benefit, however, is the speed, agility, and clarity of purpose you’ll achieve through planning. You spend time sharpening the ax so you can chop your content tree more effectively and efficiently.
It may be much easier to produce assets when we don’t tackle the real problem of deciding which ones shouldn’t be created. But, to paraphrase another quote Einstein never said, we can’t solve our content problem using the same mindset that created it.
It’s your story. Tell it well.