I never purchase a book without reading the last few sentences. If they intrigue me, I’ll take the leap.
I’m not sure when this habit began. All I know is that this habit stems from the need for my reading-time to be worthwhile. The first and last sentences of a book are often a reflection of the writer’s most concentrated, agonizing moments. The logic is that if those words don’t speak to me, the work may not be the best fit for what I need. Perhaps the habit is a little heartless, but it’s what I do nonetheless.
Thinking about this habit in the big picture, I’ve come to accept that one of the most important things for me as a reader is to understand the work’s objective. Writing needs to have impact if it’s to mean anything. If that impact isn’t translated through the opening and closing pages, then the writer hasn’t done their job.
The same can be said for a lot of what we do as creative professionals. Our work needs to have purpose and a direction. For these reasons, I’ve been pushing myself to be more critical of the work I do in the same way that I am with the work I read, asking harder questions like: Why do I/we operate this way? What’s the objective? What’s the impact? How do I/we get there?
Many professionals write about the importance of an objective in business and strategic thinking. In Amanda Lang’s The Power of Why, she goes as far as comparing those who are leaders in reaching objectives (“innovators”) to children:
“One thing that’s really striking about the innovators I’ve met is their lack of cynicism. Some are dry and sharp–you probably need to have a sense of humour in order to stick it out as an innovator–but they all retain what I’d characterize as a childlike sense of optimism. That’s not an insult, but a compliment; somehow, they’ve managed to hang on to a sense of wonder about the world and a belief in their own ability to have an effect on it. They’re persistent and stubborn about reaching goals, but flexible and open-minded when it comes to figuring out how they’re going to get there. They’re enthusiastic and engaged, always searching for a better way, and then shrugging and moving on when they fall short.” (114)
While not all of us strive to be innovators, I think it’s worth having an innovator lens when approaching big picture goals. Innovators think creatively about all the different ways a goal can be reached and can offer direction when a discussion feels too vague (similar to children, who will often cut through the niceties to ask “why” something is the way it is).
As someone who naturally thinks in the big picture, I’ve been trying to channel the optimism that Lang observes into what I do. For instance, I’ve been trying to approach the questions I’m asking as an opportunity rather than a barrier; and I’ve been looking at roadblocks as a learning experience rather than a failure.
The approach is not much different than my book selection habit. Sure, I’m breaking some rules by reading those last sentences; but, I’m also eliminating choices that may be a poor use of my money and time.
And so, I’ll end this post with a challenge for you. Next time you go on to review a plan or even purchase a product, see if you can figure out its objective in five minutes. If you can’t, take the time to ask yourself why.
You might surprise yourself.