How do you know when it’s ready? When it’s done?

Done Stamp

How do you know when something is ready? is done? it is time to stop refining and tweaking?

One of the services I love to provide to clients is to support them around developing their strategy, through which we focus on the story of the vision, what they want to communicate and how to do that.

In contracting for such work, I’m asked two questions: “how long with this take?” and “how much?”.

The answer to the latter is always an easy one to hear, as the investment in Business Strategy Coaching is so much smaller investment and so a far higher ROI than Business Strategy Consulting (see “Business Strategy Coaching – a simple secret“).

The answer to “how long will it take?”, however, often confuses, as the answer is always “until it is ready”.

You see, in coaching a client around their Business Strategy, they always know when it is ready when it is done.

Sometimes it takes quite a while, multiple iterations. However, sometimes it can be quick, they can have a breakthrough and simple know it is done.

In that latter case, however, the instinct of the client is almost always to question themself, to look to keep refining, keep iterating, keep “tweaking”. At that stage, my role is simply to hold them to their “knowing” that it is done, it is ready, to therefore make sure they stop and recognise that.

Today two illustrations of this, one a short post from Seth Godin on “How do you know when it is ready”, the other a story around a musician who created their masterwork, then simply stopped, forever.

How do you know when it’s ready?

from Seth’s Blog

It’s an important question, one that helps you understand if you have standards and a vision in mind.

A great chef knows when a dish is done. She knows that any changes to the temperature or spices will make it worse, not better.

Miles Davis knew that Kind of Blue was done. Any more takes and tweaks would have made it less, not more.

When I see a mediocre movie, read an unfunny section of Mad Magazine or engage with forgettable services, I wonder if they decided, “well, I’m out of time, so it’s done.”

That’s not a useful standard.

Mark Hollis and Spirit of Eden – retiring when you are done

In the early 80s, I loved the band Talk Talk, fronted by Mark Hollis, who were full of “power pop” hits like “Talk Talk”. “It’s my Life”, “Living in another world” and more. However, in 1988 they totally shifted gears and released the album “Spirit of Eden”, then their final album “Laughing Stock” in 1991, at which point the band disbanded as Mark Hollis, aged 35, wanted to focus on his family. Other than releasing a critically applauded solo album in 1998, he never went back to music at all, a rarity in that industry. (As an aside, I went to see the Rolling Stones in their retirement tour… in 1983. Clearly they changed their mind!).

Mark Hollis died in February this year after a short illness, at which point I revisited the last two Talk Talk albums, and particularly Spirit of Eden.

I’ve listened to that album over and over this year and now agree with Guy Garvey of Elbow that it is my all-time favourite album.

The BBC, in tribute to Mark Hollis, re-released a two-hour show by Guy Garvey interviewing various people close to Mark Hollis and Talk Talk about Spirit of Eden. In this show, and I paraphrase, it became clear that a key reason why Mark Hollis retired from music was simple.

He was done.

He had made Spirit of Eden. It is, to me, nigh perfect. There was nothing more for him to do. He knew it was time to stop.

Enjoy streaming the show here

Also published on Medium.