For fifteen years I spent almost half of every business day holding conferences, discussing problems. Should we do this or that—or nothing at all? We would get tense; twist in our chairs; walk the floor; argue and go around in circles. When night came, I would be utterly exhausted. I fully expected to go on doing this sort of thing for the rest of my life. I had been doing it for fifteen years, and it never occurred to me that there was a better way of doing it. If anyone had told me that I could eliminate three-fourths of the all the time I spent in those worried conferences, and three-fourths of my nervous strain – I would have thought he was a wild-eyed, slap-happy, armchair optimist. Yet I devised a plan that did just that. I have been using this plan for eight years. It has performed wonders for my efficiency, my health, and my happiness. It sounds like magic – but like all magic tricks, it is extremely simple when you see how it is done.
Here is the secret: First, I immediately stopped the procedure I had been using in my conferences for fifteen years – a procedure that began with my troubled associates reciting all of the details of what had gone wrong, and ending up by asking: ‘What shall we do?’ Second, I made a new rule – a rule that everyone who wishes to present a problem to me must first prepare and submit a memorandum answering these four questions:
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