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I once had an employee who had, next to her desk, an indoor plant that stood about 60cm high. One day, I went to her and said “Did you know your plant is dead?”. She first looked at me then at the plant and guess what? She was horrified.

What could she do? Her beloved plant was indeed dead! It had actually been dead for well over 6 months. Every day for 6 months or more she had sat at her desk within touching distance of her dead plant and hadn’t seen it. Why? Because it had “always” been like that!

Have you ever asked a staff member why they were doing something in a particular way and received the answer “We’ve always done it like that”. Dead plant syndrome!

Now, before you laugh at how blinkered, narrowly focused, and “in a box”, we human beings can be, I want to tell you another story. This time about myself. First off, let’s get an idea of my genius levels. I’m a Mensan, I’m a Professional Engineer, I started studying to become a CA(SA) at 50 years old and completed it (articles and all) in four years flat. Clever stuff eh?

Now on to the real me. As a professional practice we are legally obliged (Companies Act and Close Corporations Act) to prominently display the names of all of the companies whose Registered Office is at our premises. To achieve this, back in the old days, we had about four peg boards, each about 1,2m high x 0,8m wide. The client names were listed using press-in white letters and were in alphabetical order. About every 6 months, two of our staff members were given the job of picking off the letters and rebuilding the client lists in accordance with the latest available data. I’d been responsible for the internal management of the practice for some time when it occured to me that there might be a better way of achieving the same result. After all. we now had computers and spreadsheets. Why, I asked myself, can’t I maintain the client lists on a spreadsheet and then get them printed whenever we felt we needed an update? A printer client of ours very generously undertook to print the once-off sheets 1,2m high x 0,8m wide at a reasonable charge. I bought picture frames to accomodate the printed sheets and away we went. The saving in time was fantastic and of course, we were able to keep the lists much more up to date.

It was about three years later, when we moved to our present premises, that it dawned on me that the sheets didn’t have to be 1,2m x 0,8m – A4 would do just as well, I just needed to buy smaller frames. Really Derek – Dead plant syndrome!

This lesson in life? Never stop thinking about change. There is always a better way to do something that you or your business is doing. And be careful. When you get out of the box (as I did when we put the data on a spreadsheet), be aware that you’re still in another, bigger, box (as I was until I changed the size). Pssst! Writing this, I’ve just thought of a better way still. Instead of maintaining that list, why not export it from our newly commissioned Sage CRM? I can be such a dummy!

Should you wish to make an appointment, please feel free to visit Derek’s diaryand book a time that suits you.


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Looking for even more informative content? Check out the books I have written which have proved to be very popular.

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