Starting a Stopping List

At the end of almost every advisory session that I do –  after the group has spent the entire day talking about either the launch of a new content initiative or the creation of a centralized, strategic content function in the business – a funny thing happens. Someone (sometimes it’s me, but most of the time it’s someone who has been quiet for much of the meeting) says something like this:

“Um, we should probably align our expectations with reality.”

The room goes quiet. Heads nod. The realization sets in: This is going to be hard. Real people are going to have to DO all this stuff. As the heads nod, the inevitable objections arise:

  • “We still have to support the sales guys with the materials they need.”
  • “We still have to publish those four customer newsletters every week.”
  • “We still have to update the customer-resource website.”
  • “We still have to launch that new-product website next quarter.”

Having watched groups go through this arc of realization over and over, I start these sessions – even before we get to the new initiative – by asking about all the things that the content team is doing. Then I ask why they do each thing, and we list all the juicy reasons.

At the end of the day, when the heads nod, I trot out their list and ask, “Which of these things can you stop doing?” People look at each other. Uncomfortable laughter. “None of it. Senior management will want us to keep doing it all.”

The business case we have to build now isn’t why we should do the new thing. It’s why we should stop doing the old thing.

As business professor Michael Porter famously says, “The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.” Whenever we tackle a new content initiative – a blog, a resource center, a customer help publication – one of the worst outcomes is to avoid addressing what we’re going to stop doing.

So when you find yourself putting together content objectives that will result in to-do lists, take the time to create a to-stop-doing list. How about the newsletter that goes to 20,000 customers who don’t read it? How about the resource center that no one uses?

Before you start something new, start a stopping list.