A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of moderating a panel discussion for SMPS Philadelphia.
One of the panel members was a marketer named Andy. Andy revealed one of his internal proposal tactics and I think the jaws in the entire room collectively dropped.
This tactic was schocking for two reasons:
- The sheer audacity of it
- The sheer brilliance of it
All I could say was:
“We all just got our $50 worth right there.”
But all I could think was:
“Thank you, Bette Nesmith Graham”
But she was also a typist who invented liquid paper, commonly referred to as White Out.
In this digital age, people rarely use liquid paper anymore. But liquid paper, a little bit of ingenuity, and a lot of guts saved Andy’s Thanksgiving.
The White Out Trick
Andy is in charge of the marketing operations for a fairly large civil engineering firm. They had a big proposal due on December 2nd.
Andy knew they had plenty of time to get this proposal done well before the deadline. But he also understood Parkinson’s Law, which states that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”.
If the technical writers didn’t get this proposal done early, his team would likely be working over their Thanksgiving break.
So, Andy did something I never even considered. Before he distributed this RFP internally, he took White Out and changed the proposal’s due date to before Thanksgiving. He then photocopied it and sent it out to his team.
The proposal got done and everybody enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner with their loved ones. Nobody was the wiser.
In fact, Andy’s boss heard about this the same moment I did. And his jaw dropped further than anyone’s.
No, Andy didn’t get fired. In fact, during the panel, Andy’s boss couldn’t speak more highly of him. I was impressed with him and I know my boss, who was in the audience, was as well.
The White Out Trick addresses a flaw in human behavior (the above-mentioned Parkinson’s Law).
Here’s how it works. If you send an RFP to a team and gave them two months to submit on it, they would get a proposal done in two months. If you gave the same RFP to the same team, but only gave them one month, they would get it done in a month. In each case, this team would be struggling to get everything else done and still meet the deadline.
If you already have a reasonable amount of time to produce the proposal, having an extra month will not drastically improve your ultimate proposal. You’ll just end up spending more time on it, or worse putting it off until you absolutely need to get working on it.
Sure, if you have two days to submit a proposal and they give you an extra two days…that’s going to have a huge impact. But ultimately, if you have two days, you’ll find a way to get it done.
The White Out Trick creates an artificial deadline forcing people to be focused and efficient.
This Trick’s Risk Profile
There is an obvious reason I never thought to do this. It sounds risky. It’s lying about a due date.
But let’s compare this to what I do. Anyone who has read Proposal Development Secrets knows I never speak about when a proposal is due. I only speak about when it is “going out.” I set early deadlines that incorporate “float,” because I don’t truly expect people will hit their deadlines.
How is what I do any more honest than the White Out Trick? It’s really not. Neither is telling your girlfriend she doesn’t look fat in that dress, when she accidentally put on the tarp to your Jeep (note: this is a hypothetical example). Or telling your boyfriend he’s the most handsome man ever, when you’d gnaw off your own arm to spend an evening with Ryan Gosling.
People “stretch” the truth sometimes because:
- We feel doing otherwise would be detrimental to the other person.
- To not ruin our lives.
A lie is a lie, is a lie. The White Out Trick is just significantly more ballsy of a lie.
That’s not to say it isn’t without risk. If per chance, a technical staff member, despite having the RFP in front of them, decided to:
- Go search it out.
- Download it.
- Then compare it to the version you gave them.
…then you run the risk of them getting pissed at you.
But I believe that is unlikely to happen. Plus, you might have a leg to stand on with, “I did this so you could spend Thanksgiving with your family rather than in the office.”
The very real risk I see with the White Out Trick is with last minute addendums to the RFP. But if you control the flow of information, I’m sure you could easily keep the ruse going.
And if you directed another staff member to use this trick, I think you are just asking to get fired. I don’t think it is ever in your best interest to ask a co-worker or subordinate to be deceitful (in any way).
To White Out Or Not To White Out
Do I endorse the White Out Trick? Would I recommend you start using it? No.
Is Betty Nesmith Graham rolling in her grave knowing that her invention is used in this manner? Probably.
But do I understand it? Yes.
What Do You Think?
What do you think about the White Out Trick? Genius, evil genius, or plain old foolish?
Leave your thoughts in the comments!
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