(From 3 May 2011) I used to have a boss who was a tough nut to crack. He didn’t suffer fools, and thankfully I caught on quickly. Some of the most valuable lessons I have learned in my career came from him.

For example, when I had a problem to solve or a question to answer, you can be sure that if I went into his office and asked what to do, he’d send me off to run a pile of reports and create a couple of spreadsheets. If, however, I presented the problem and suggested a solution, I would ALWAYS walk out of his office with an answer. Sometimes it was the one I proposed, sometimes it would be something else. Either way, I could move forward.

While I realize he was subtly teaching me the value of taking initiative (yes, Don, I was on to you), he taught me something else even more valuable. He taught me that people are often more productive when they are given a starting point. Once they have either context or boundaries, they have a springboard for decision-making.

I see this all the time with my creative team. Someone will come to one of them and request a new design. The designer will ask a lot of questions in order to determine a direction. In many cases, the requestor doesn’t give much guidance, so the designer is left to his creative devices and eventually offers up a fabulous draft. Except the requestor doesn’t like it. All of a sudden, he knows exactly what will work and what won’t, and the mark-up he returns is practically bleeding red ink. Thankfully, the best designers realize this is part of the process. Most people need help visualizing possible outcomes; as soon as they have something to compare, they are off and running.

The next time you need an answer, suggest something. You’ll be moving forward in no time.

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