In 1962, a group of four British musicians drove ten hours in a snowstorm to audition with Decca Records. After playing several songs, the producer at Decca dismissed them citing that “guitar groups are on the way out.” The group? Was the Beatles, and five months later they signed with a different record label and skyrocketed from being a local favorite to worldwide stardom. The obvious question we are left with is, “How did Decca make such a huge mistake?” Some will argue that it wasn’t Decca’s fault, that the Beatles gave a bad performance. I believe that is complete nonsense; I see people and businesses make these kinds of bad mistakes constantly and there is one key reason: The Sh*tty First Draft, or SFD.
The Sh*tty First Draft
Brené Brown, Ph.D.1 is a research professor at the University of Houston. She coined the term “sh*tty first draft.” This is a term meant to describe the decisions we make or things we produce when we act on pure emotion, without thinking it through first. Now, drawing on your emotions is no doubt a useful tool when making decisions. Because of this, Brené Brown is by no means saying abandon emotion or intuition entirely. Rather, she suggests we should make decisions and do our work after gathering as much of the available information as possible. By doing this we can act not based on knee-jerk reactions but on the careful consideration of the knowledge and tools available to you.
The SFD can rear its ugly head in many areas of your life. Whether a literal first draft of a report you’re putting together or the first instinctual response your brain goes to when conflicting with another person. The SFD can be the result of a heightened emotional state leading to reactions that may not reflect the way a calm and collected mind would have responded. Regardless of the context though, the SFD is often the product of quick reactions based on limited information.
This can get you into trouble. In my 30 years of experience, I’ve personally seen people make the mistake of going with the SFD time after time. People will act quickly before taking time to gather all the facts and make a fully informed decision, as we saw with the story of Decca Records. But it isn’t always humongous record deals that are missed by going with the SFD. It can also lead to not investing enough time or attention into the work you’re doing. When giving a presentation, writing an email, putting together a project, or even writing an article, invest the time, energy, and attention to detail to deliver a world class final product. I can tell you that I have had countless experiences after a meeting, delivering a webinar, or a conversation that led to massive opportunities. In each case, I feared a SFD and prepared excessively to deliver the very best I could offer.
3 Ways to Avoid the SFD:
I have found the following three strategies to help me avoid the SFD. If you follow these tips, you will be better prepared to deliver your best performance. They will help you create things you’re proud of, communicate more effectively, and open up new and exciting opportunities!
1. Respond, don’t react
First and foremost, respond, don’t react. When you respond to something, you are taking in information, hearing what has been said and opening up a rich dialogue about the issue at hand. When you react, it is often a knee-jerk, quick reaction that typically ends in disastrous results and heightened emotions. In this case, reacting is the SFD. I have used this in many leadership roles over the past two decades; training customer service and support teams to manage escalated calls and support cases. Take a deep breath, “respond, don’t react”, gather all the facts, repeat the stated issue or concern back to the customer and magically the tone in the conversation will calm down. I hear from many former colleagues today who still use this tactic successfully on a regular basis to manage and resolve issues.
With this strategy in mind, think of a hard conversation you’ve had recently or a tricky email you’ve had to send. Did you respond or react? Did you take the time to collect yourself? Take in totality what’s in front of you? Or did you act quickly and on instinct? It’s hard not to react, it takes an extra level of self-control and attentiveness but by focusing on trying to respond, not react, however, it can do wonders in avoiding the SFD.
2. Always bring your “A-game”
I recently listened to an interview2 with George Mumford, who was a mindfulness coach for Michael Jordan, one of the greatest NBA players to ever live. He got to know Michael well and is credited with vastly improving his on-court leadership skills. What I found most interesting about the interview, however, was how he described the first time he saw Michael practice. Mumford said that Michael was practicing with the same intensity as he does when he is in a competition. As you may know, Michael Jordan was once kicked off his high school basketball team. He never forgot that feeling of getting kicked off the team and was absolutely determined to never, ever deliver less than his very best performance – even during a practice – to avoid a SFD. Even as highly successful professional, he practiced like he was afraid he’ll get kicked off the team if he didn’t bring his A-game to everything he did.
So how does this apply to our jobs? If you bring your A-game every day and treat everything you do like it’s your one shot, and you may not get a second chance, you won’t leave any room for SFDs. If you approach your work like this, you will make sure you are taking the necessary steps to turn in great first drafts ALWAYS. In basketball this may look like making sure you’re taking care of your body and pushing yourself at every practice, but in the office, this may look a little different. For instance, you may ensure that every email you send is polished as the most important email you’ve ever sent. Or when sending out a report, you make sure to check, double check, even triple check the accuracy before sending it off. You never know who could read the email, attend the presentation, or know the person you met with and where it could lead – or end – depending on the quality of work you deliver. Always bring your A-game and push yourself to excellence, no matter who is watching, like Michael Jordan.
3. Think BIG!
Thinking BIG goes hand-in-hand with bringing your A-game. Imagine that someone influential might be watching or the positive impression you leave with the audience or recipient could lead to much bigger things. If you think BIG you will be pushing yourself beyond all expectations. Thinking BIG in all your projects will mean that you aren’t settling for run-of-the-mill or average. Instead, you will be striving to deliver something truly exceptional every chance you get. You never know who might see that work and the opportunities it might open for you in your future. If you settle for thinking small, that’s the SDF. Only when you take the time to step back, widen your scope and think BIG will you be creating great first drafts!
We all can fall prey to the SFD. We settle into a rhythm, get too busy, rush through something and settle for “good enough”. We may think “no one will see this” or “it’s a small client meeting” or “I’m just gonna shoot this email off quick”, but we never know where that small meeting could lead with a friend or relative of the person in the meeting or who else might see the email and use that to judge the quality of your work. It doesn’t have to be this way though. By following the three tips I’ve laid out here, SFDs can be a thing of the past. Changing how you approach your work and therefore creating great first drafts will open up countless BIG opportunities. You just need to respond, not react, always bring your A game and think BIG!
1. Brené Brown’s website: https://brenebrown.com/
2. The interview with Michael Jordan’s mindfulness coach: https://tim.blog/2021/04/14/george-mumford/
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