When I was a junior copywriter, Alan Parker directed one of my commercials.
He was the hottest director in the UK at the time.
At one point on the shoot, he came across to speak to me.
He asked me how I wanted a particular scene shot.
I was only a kid, I hadn’t been on many shoots.
I said “Give me a minute to think about it.”
Alan said “Big mistake.”
I said “Pardon.”
He said “When I started directing I learned the worst thing you can do on set is stop to think about it.
Because when you stop, everything stops.
And while you’re thinking, all the actors, the camera crew, the sparks, the sound crew, the riggers, are standing around doing nothing.
So what you’re actually doing is burning time.
And after half hour’s thinking, you’re still no closer to knowing what to do.”
Alan could see I was confused.
I’d never had anyone tell me not to think before.
He said “It usually comes down to a choice between two ways to go: this way or that way.
And all the thinking won’t tell you which is best.
So just pick one, it doesn’t matter which, and go with that.
Then, one of two things happen.
Either you find it was the right way, in which case, brilliant.
You steam on in that direction.
Or you realise it was the wrong decision.
In which case you drop it quick and put everything into going down the other route.
But either way, you now know the right answer.
And what you haven’t done is wasted a lot of time thinking about it.”
I’ve often thought about that advice since.
Edward de Bono says the same thing in different language.
He says “The purpose of thinking isn’t judgement, it’s movement.”
When we’re stuck, the first thing to do is get unstuck, fast.
Like a car stuck in mud.
If we sit there with our foot on the accelerator spinning the wheels, we’re not going anywhere.
So the main thing to do is get unstuck.
Never mind if it’s the right direction.
Just getting unstuck is the priority.
Peter Wood is the man who revolutionised the insurance business.
He founded Direct Line, Sheila’s Wheels, eSure, and Go Compare.
He once said a similar thing to me.
He said his motto is “Do it, then fix it.”
In other words, don’t wait until everything’s perfect.
Nothing will ever be perfect.
If you wait around for that you’ll never do anything.
So just get started, and correct mistakes as they crop up.
The chairman and co-founder of Nike has a similar motto.
“Make sure your bow-wave is bigger than your wake.”
In other words, keep moving forward.
Stop worrying about making mistakes.
You’ll always make mistakes.
It’s not important to never get anything wrong.
What it is important is to get more right than you get wrong.
And you do that by movement.
Fear of not having a guaranteed right answer is what keeps us stuck.
We’re so terrified of making the wrong decision we don’t make a decision at all.
And that’s definitely the wrong decision.