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Why You Should Never Have To Fill Out A Form


I hate filling out forms. And it’s time to be honest. You hate forms too.

When someone hands us a form to fill out, he or she might as well be stabbing us in the heart. And we’re left there wondering, “Why do I have to fill this out?” It just feels like needless work.

Is it time to abolish forms once and for all?

Worst Form Ever

I’ve been going to the same doctor for years. And it seems like each time I go, I have to fill out the same stupid form. You probably know the form. It’s a checklist of my family’s medical history.

This doctor has treated me many times. He knows me. Why do I have to spend my valuable time filling out this stupid form, again, just so he knows my brother has hemorrhoids?

It’s the doctor’s job to know their patients and figure out what’s wrong with them, right? So, why is every doctor’s office, every hospital, basically a house of forms?

Can’t We Just Do Away With Forms?

Much to my dismay, when doctors don’t use forms, it’s a freaking disaster. It turns out that doctors make terrible decisions when they don’t use forms.

In his book, The Checklist Manifesto, Dr. Atul Gawande tells the story of a critical-care specialist at Johns Hopkins Hospital named Peter Pronovost.

Imagine working for this guy. He created a brand new form. Then he forced his intensive care unit doctors to fill it out each time they inserted a line into a patient’s vein. Inserting a line is like the most routine thing doctors do when working in a hospital.

And his form was super annoying. The doctors hated filling this form out. They had to check off whether they did stuff like washing their hands. This form bordered on insulting. These doctors knew what they were doing and didn’t need it.

But let’s be glad Peter forced those doctors to use his stupid form. At just one hospital there were forty-three fewer line infections and eight fewer deaths as a result. Yes, there were eight fewer funerals for someone’s mother, husband, or sister. Using the form also saved two million dollars in costs.

“The fear people have about the idea of adherence to a protocol is rigidity. They imagine mindless automatons, heads down in a checklist, incapable of looking out their windshield and coping with the real world in front of them. But what you find, when a checklist is well made, is exactly the opposite. The checklist gets the dumb stuff out of the way.”

-Atul Gawande, The Checklist Manifesto

Why We Really Hate Forms

Forms remind us that we’re fallible. Agreeing to use a form is admitting that you and the people you work with, despite all your abilities and training, aren’t perfect.

But in reality, my doctor probably wouldn’t even remember my name if he didn’t have his clipboard in front of him. He needs to know what health problems my brother has because I might turn out to have them too. And without that info, let’s be honest, it is possible that he’d misdiagnose me or miss telltale signs.

We’re not annoyed with the forms. We’re annoyed with us. We’re annoyed that, if we’re honest, we know that using forms will result in better decisions. Frankly, that’s like a punch in the gut.

That’s why filling out forms is so painful. We hate even the thought of it.

Let’s Cut Ourselves Some Slack

When I walk out my door and head to the grocery store, my wife stops me and hands me a list of things to buy. She knows I’ll forget something if I don’t have that list in front of me. She doesn’t do that because she thinks I’m a lesser person. She does that because she knows I’m human.

And I am human. I would forget to buy something we need. It’s Ok for me to need that checklist.

It is OK for me to put my trust in a form. It’s OK for me to fill out a Go/No Go form when considering going after a contract. It’s OK for me to let the form make the decision rather than making it and ultimately filling out the form to match my decision. Putting my faith in a form doesn’t make me less valuable.

It’s OK for me to use a checklist to make sure I’ve included everything in my proposals. Sure, I pride myself in my proposal development abilities. But letting a form “do my compliance check,” doesn’t mean I’m not good. Every tool we use in this modern age is basically a form. A project schedule, an excel spreadsheet, our calendar…they are all forms.

We need to cut ourselves some slack. It’s OK to hate filling out forms. It’s also OK to acknowledge that we are not flawless machines. We’ll make mistakes. We’ll make bad decisions. We can’t escape or ignore that fact.

But, like those doctors, we don’t want to make the mistake of not using a form, not trusting a form, when it could save the people we work with money, help our co-workers spend more time with their family…

…or even reduce the number of needless funerals. It’s time for us to embrace the form.

Do we want another form? No. Do we need another form? Yes.

Now It’s Your Turn

First, I want you to send this to anyone you know who hates filling out forms. Send it right now.

Next, I want you to tell us about a time when you forced yourself to fill out a form, even though you hated it. Share your story in the comments.

How To Network With Older People

I remember it like it was yesterday. I was in my early 20s and my boss expected me to network with senior people working for potential clients. These people were fifteen years older than me.

How was I supposed to network with someone in a completely different age group? My kids weren’t entering into college… I had no kids. I had only recently graduated college myself and didn’t even have a girlfriend.

I knew nothing about designing or building pharmaceutical facilities. I had no war stories. I knew none of the players.

Networking with older people

I wasn’t exactly a titan of industry.

I had nothing in common with these people. So, how was I supposed to develop a relationship? How was I supposed to get them to like me and, as a result, give my firm work? I’d rather shove hot pokers into my eyes than try to weasel my way into a conversation with some old geezer I couldn’t relate to.

Yes, that’s what I thought. And I was completely wrong. But what I was wrong about might surprise you. If you struggle with the idea of networking with people much older or younger than you…the same thing is probably blocking your success.

You see, within a few weeks, I would meet the person who I hold responsible for my job, my wife, and teaching me an unforgettable lesson about networking. And he was 25 years older than me.

Thrown To The Wolves

I was a few weeks into my job as a marketing coordinator for a mechanical/electrical/plumbing design firm. My boss, the Senior Vice President, drove me to an International Society of Pharmaceutical Engineers event in Lawrenceville, NJ.

“Matt, I’m not driving you back to the office until you have someone’s business card in your hand,” he announced.

Thanks a lot, jerk…I thought.

I looked around and it might as well have been an AARP meeting or a casting call for Grumpy Old Men 3. But I needed a ride back to the office and you’ve got to keep the boss happy. So, I wandered the room looking for the friendliest face I could.

I finally found someone who looked reasonably friendly. I swallowed my pride. I went up and awkwardly asked for his business card. He introduced himself and gave me his card. His name was John. But more importantly, I bolted back to my boss and got my ride home that night.

Over the next few years, I attended more networking events. And John was always a comfortable person to go up to because I had already met him.

The Surprising Power Of Networking (Even When You Stink At It)

Flash forward three years later. I was jobless, trying to figure out what to do with my life, and living in a house with a few friends.

One morning, I was sitting in my Twinkie pajamas (yes, Twinkie snack cakes), watching TV. Suddenly, the phone on the wall rang.

“Hi, This is Tracy from Trauner Consulting. We would like you to come in to interview.”

You have to understand. I had not sent this woman my resume. I had not applied for a single job. So, I had no idea why she was calling me.

To make a long story short, it was John who was now working at Trauner Consulting and convinced Tracy to hire me (despite her reservations). And for years after that, John and I shared an office and worked side-by-side.

Dapper John And The One Who Didn’t Get Away

They used to call John, “Dapper John.” He was a handsome, well-dressed man in his 50s. He was a “ladies man.”

So when I had arranged a first date with a girl a little out of my league, I decided to ask John for some advice.

“Well, Matt,” he said. “I’ve got a place. But here’s the thing. You better really like this girl. Because if you take her to this place, you’ll never get rid of her.”

Yeah, maybe that’s the case for John. But we’re talking about me here. If there was any guy who could make a girl change her number, dye her hair, and move to a different state after a first date…it was me.

When someone hands you the golden ticket, you’ve got to take it. Maybe, with the help of John’s special spot, I could get a kiss on the cheek from this girl before she realized what a terrible time I am.

I’ve now been married to that girl for nine years! John did it again.

How To Network With Older People

John helped me land the gal of my dreams.

How To Network With People Who Are Different Than You.

Think about it for a second. How much has John helped me?

If John called me up today and said,”Matt, I need one of your kidneys,” how could I refuse? I’d just have to say yes…here’s my kidney. That’s the power of helping people. That’s the power of reciprocation.

And I help John whenever I can. Most recently, I helped him pick out the right smartphone. And even though he’s basically retired, we meet up for lunch every few months.

John and I never had lots in common. But we built a reciprocal relationship based on helping each other.

The Biggest Networking Misconception

The next time you walk into a networking event, don’t think about how you’ll talk about commonalities with people and “build relationships.” Don’t think about how you’ll position your firm so they know yours is the firm to hire. Forget that.

Despite what you may have heard, you are not there to turn these people into your buddies or sell them on your amazing firm. You are there to uncover ways you can help them.

That’s the point of talking with people at networking events: simply to uncover how you might help them.

Not how your firm can provide them services. How YOU can help THEM.

Be curious. Ask questions. Dig deep. Uncover some way you might be able to help them.

It doesn’t have to be a big favor. It doesn’t have to be work related. But it has to be something.

Helping transcends all age differences. It transcends race, class, sexual orientation, gender identity, and political orientation. A six-year-old boy could help Caitlyn Jenner across the street and she/he would not forget that. An elderly woman could stop a protester from throwing a tomato at Donald Trump, and he would remember that. A 60-year-old man could help a 28-year-old land a job. And I will never forget that.

If you help enough people get what they want, you’ll get everything you’ve ever wanted.

That’s the true secret of successful networking.

Now it’s your turn, what’s the hardest part of networking with older people. Leave a comment below.

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