Avoiding the Black Knight
Was it one if by land, two if by sea, or two if by land and one if by sea?
The sexton of Boston’s North Church paces the 1775-era floor, trying to remember Paul Revere’s instructions, to alert the colonists of British movements.
Now which one was it?
A few days before, Paul Revere sent advance word, letting the colonists know about the warning system:
Paul Revere: Make sure you don’t do anything until you see the lights in the North Church steeple.
Colonist #1: Not to do anything … even if you see the lights.
Colonist #2: [hiccups]
Paul Revere: No, no. *Until* you see the lights.
Colonist #1: Until you see the lights, we’re not to do anything.
Paul Revere: No, no, no. You *stay* here and don’t do anything.
Colonist #1: Until we see the lights.
Colonist 2: [hiccups]
Paul Revere: Correct.
Colonist #1: Well, why didn’t you just say that?
(h/t to Monty Python and the Holy Grail, from which the above was spun.)
It’s easy for the best-laid plans to unravel into a Monty Python skit. There’s the planning, letting others in on the plan, and then the hope that it will be executed as directed.
Back in 1775 they got it right. The sexton remembered the signal, the colonists were paying attention, and off rode Revere and William Dawes and – by the end of the evening – dozens of other riders, spreading the alarm. It worked.
But it takes a lot to get to right.
There’s the plan – knowing what you want to achieve and how you’ll achieve it that has to be set up.
In M*A*S*H there’s a great scene in the movie when a ringer, “Spearchucker” Jones, is brought in to help the rag-tag 4077th football team beat its rival. Winning involves cheating, bringing in an unexpected heavy, and a syringe into the arm of the other team’s star player. The syringe was a last-minute add-on, but in the end, their plan worked.
Can you imagine the conference for that one, with Radar finishing Col. Blake’s sentences as the latter tries to get up to speed, while Hawyeye and Trapper John jokestorm the entire meeting? A Korean War version of Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s On First?” skit comes to mind.
Then there’s the execution.
They got it in M*A*S*H and back in 1775, but those Monty Python moments seem more the case than the exception. They play well on screen, but when they run into your business plans, they play out like Monty Python’s Black Knight who just won’t stop fighting you – even when you’ve fought him with all you’ve got. How can you be expected to execute the plan if there’s a crazy knight in the way all the time?
Best way to handle all? You have to anticipate the Black Knight. For starters, there’s the Foolscap method that Steve wrote about in his “Writing Wednesdays” post this past week. It works for books as well as promo plans, launches for different products and pretty much everything else. It’s the outline, the seed for your finished idea, the place to start before you start sharing and executing.
In his New Yorker piece “The Story of My App,” Christoph Niemann spoke about the simplicity of seeing your ideas in the raw, unfeathered version (read the entire article. It’s worth the time and takeaway):
“Simplicity is not about making something without ornament, but rather about making something very complex, then slicing elements away, until you reveal the very essence.”
Finding the essence, and then building out without ornamentation, can be slow going, but it’s the best speed at which to proceed. It will get you to that end goal, without a trip past that annoying Black Knight.
Check out Steve’s future posts on FoolsCap in the coming weeks. It works.