Marriott Alumni Magazine

Spring Summer 1977 Exchange

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by Michael D. Dingman Between the dark and the daylight, When the night is beginning to lower, Comes a pause in the day's occupation That is known as the Children's Hour. -Longfellow In the perceptive imagery that poets seem to command so well, Longfellow, in these four well-known lines, is not merely recounting the pleasures of setting aside work to revel with three mischievous daughters. He seems to be saying, "Set routine chores aside. Take a break. Redirect your entire thought process." Our turbulent society is producing greater numbers of overly active advocates persuading us to buy, sell, promote, expand, contract, build, obey, conform, sue, or just listen. This assault goes on day after day, and we find ourselves constantly pressured to say yes, no, or maybe. Success depends on how often we come up (through skill or luck) with the right answers. No one has ever devised a better formula for handling this daily shock wave than the business consultant who advised Andrew Carnegie. He told Carnegie to make a daily list of his ten most pressing problems (with the toughest one first), handle them one at a time, and then go home. I would add one more ingredient to that formula-a 30-minute "pause in the day's occupation.'' Tick-Tock For 30 minutes a day I would block the phone, close the door, and think, with nothing but a ticking clock to keep me company. I would quietly, methodically examine one problem. I would define it in simple, uncomplicated language. And here the clock can be an invaluable inspiration. For have you ever heard a simpler expression for the passing of time than “tick-tock?” I would ask the questions, “What are we trying to do, and why?” If I can answer these in simple, direct language, it is likely I will be on my way to a simple, direct solution. Early in World War II a directive reached President Roosevelt’s piled desk. It said: Such preparations shall be made as will completely obscure all federal buildings occupied by the federal government during an air raid for any period of time from visibility by reason of internal or external illumination. Such obscuration may be obtained either by blackout construction or by terminating illumination. I don’t know if he had a clock urging him on to “tick-tock” simplicity, but Roosevelt must have asked, “What are we trying to do?” He rewrote the directive: “Cover the windows and turn out the lights.” At Wheelabrator-Frye, we had the opportunity several years ago to apply this simple, self-effacing procedure with great success. It was time to face the traumatic literary event that faces every large corporation every year-the annual corporate report. “Why does an annual report have to be so unreadable?” we asked. “Why can’t it be written so simply that even a child can understand it?” Out of these simply stated questions came Wheelabrator-Frye’s Annual Young People’s Report. Not only does it explain Wheelabrator, it discusses how the free enterprise system works in the United States. Not only do young people read and understand it, it has a vast adult audience as well. Polarized Taxpayers In another productive pause in the day’s occupation, we raised the question, “How do we know the taxpayer is getting his money’s worth?” We had just moved our corporation headquarters to New Hampshire and were amazed at the vehemence with which taxes were discussed in New England. Much of the debate polarized on political philosophy. The emphasis was on where to spend money, not how to spend money. Through the Wheelabrator Foundation, we made a grant to Dartmouth College to study the fiscal systems of New Hampshire and Vermont. The resulting report, written by economics professor Collin Campbell and his wife, Rosemary, showed conclusively that Vermonters paid 50 percent more for essentially the same services supplied in New Hampshire. The principle difference was not, as so widely argued, a philosophical difference, but simply a matter of how public officials managed public funds. We, and the For 30 minutes a day, close the door and think. Quietly, methodically examine one problem. Ask, “What are we trying to do, and why?”

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