I keep threatening to do a video on the WhiteBoard Method, but admittedly, I haven’t.
Throughout my life I have followed the directions of others. When I was 17 I had zero direction of my own. My dad wanted me to go to the Air Force Academy. I didn’t get accepted, so I did what any smart kid would do, I enlisted. Well maybe I wasn’t so smart.
After completing the Security Police Academy, I started work. Walking circles around airplanes at 4 am wasn’t my idea of a good time or a good job. My boss said take some classes get your G.E.D. and he could reduce the time you spend walking around airplanes. That was easy, I did what he told me to do.
At some point I realized that Security Police was not going to be my life career so I looked around my little world. All of the big bosses were pilots so I set out to be a pilot. Not because I had any direction but because that was the highest level of success I had understood at that time.
Desert Storm aka the Gulf War started while I was in pilot training. At first there was a knee jerk reaction, lots of pilots might die, we need to get you ready quicker. Then it ended in a matter of days and the knee jerked the other way. Suddenly they didn’t need pilots. I was close enough to graduation, I was able to stay and actually fly an airplane in the Air National Guard. the bad news was the budget had been cut so fast and so deep in the next 24 months that I was working 3 or 4 days a month, and that doesn’t pay the bills as a reservist or Air Guard pilot.
Out of necessity I started pulling wires for a friends business. Wanting a little more money I started a business contracting that work out to my friend and his competitors. The business grew at triple digit rates and I had no idea what I was doing. I just kept doing.
Eventually that business was sold, and everyone thought I was a business genius. The next two didn’t work out so well. By the fourth business I started making a living again and didn’t need a side job at night. Flying picked back up and I changed to a better airplane in the Air Force Reserves. The job in the reserves landed me in the middle east several times. It was those lonely days where I started making notes on large white boards to solve problems we were having with airplanes, people and anything else that came up. I didn’t realize it would be the early stages of the whiteboard method.
My fear of being broke, created a work ethic few can understand. The problem is that I just worked for the money. Nothing else mattered. Then I met my wife, I started working a little smarter, and less harder. She had a good job, one that her parents and teachers said she should do. She too had no direction of her own. It might be why we got along so well back then.
Some years ago, halfway between meeting my wife and today, she was diagnosed with Cancer. Friday morning we went to the hospital for some tests and Monday she was going in for surgery. That weekend is when I realized that I had been doing what other people thought I should do my entire life.
Friday night, we were told that she may only have 90 days to live if the surgery doesn’t get all of the tumors. Yes that is plural. She had been the most stable thing in my life. The one thing I thought I could count on. All the way home I kept asking “What do you want to do?” having no idea she was trying to digest that she many only have 90 days to live.
The drive from the hospital to the house was about an hour. As we pulled into the driveway she finally said something. She said “I don’t want to die.”. At that time I had a very large whiteboard installed on the wall in my garage. It was my thinking space. It was where I solved problems for my business, my employees and it was about to become the place I solved my wife’s problem in a new way.
Looking at the board, as we got out of the car, I said, “I have an idea, can you grab a bottle of wine and two glasses?” She walked into the house and I wiped three months worth of work from the whiteboard. In that moment none of that work mattered. I started at the blank white space and thought, how do you map out the best 90 days anyone can ever have?
Using the same techniques that I used to problem solve, I figured instead of “pros and cons” or “costs and benefits” or “risks and outcomes” that I used for other problems, this one was all about her “wants”. I started with two columns, “Want” and “Don’t Want”. Part of her meetings with doctors on that Friday included a session with a Psychologist who talked to us individually about our stresses and anxieties. He separated us so she wouldn’t bias her answers. They believe stress is a major factor in Cancer and this was where her treatment began.
At home I thought, maybe we should be separate there too. So I made another area for me with “Wants” and “Don’t Wants”. I realized quickly that we can somehow achieve more than we imagined without any direction. I had been rolling the dice every day up until this point. It turned out to be part of her stress.
I wrote “Don’t Want To Die” on her “Don’t Want” column to get her started. As I sat there I remembered some marketing training that the brain doesn’t understand negative language so we subconsciously read “Don’t want to die” as “Want to die”. I didn’t like that so I erased it and moved it to the want side simply writing “Live”.
We each started very slowly. As the wine flowed the boards began to fill. It didn’t take long to see two things. Each of us could quickly point out inconsistent areas on the others board. More importantly we could see the conflicts between us. It opened up a whole new approach to marriage negotiations that we still use to this day.
Every year we use the WhiteBoard Method to reset our goals and make sure we keep moving forward. If you need help moving your life and business forward, give it a try. If you need more than that, give us a call.