Two weeks ago, I was standing in line at LAX, ready to show the TSA agent my boarding pass for a 6:00 a.m. return flight to Huntsville. As I drew closer to the front of the line, I reached into my pocket for my boarding pass…and it wasn’t there. I checked my other pockets, then checked that first pocket again. The pass still wasn’t there.
I stepped out of line to check all the usual places one more time, then I stopped. “This isn’t working,” I thought. “What have I not considered that might be the cause of this problem?” Part of me was ready to panic. Another voice said “slow down. Think it through.”
It was then that I remembered American Airlines’ new process of printing luggage tags using the same machine as boarding passes. I had attached the sticky luggage tag to my bag and must have inadvertently thrown away my boarding pass with the plastic backing from the tag. Sure enough, when I returned to the trash can where I had tossed the waste, I found my crumpled boarding pass on the top of the pile.
Why did I keep checking my pockets? Why did I do the same thing over and over again, knowing I’d probably end up with the same result? That’s the same process our clients experience before they eventually reach out to us. They’ve tried the things they’ve always done—everything they can think to do—yet they’re still unsuccessful in solving their company’s business growth challenges. Like those companies, I wasn’t attacking the whitespace. That is, until I took the unusual step of checking the trash can.
What IS Whitespace?
Whitespace is more than our company name. It’s our area of expertise, our playing field, our discriminator. We help our clients find their whitespace: the solutions that they’ve overlooked and the questions they haven’t asked. Perhaps whitespace is best defined as “the job that’s been left undone.” Whitespace in business is that approach or that potential flaw that no one has attempted to address. It needs to be tried or to be fixed, and we teach our clients how to step in and solve a problem or try an approach that everyone else has ignored. We should always gravitate to those problems and solutions that other say are “too hard” or “will never work” or “are impossible.” That’s where the best solutions lie, in that magical “Neverland” of alternatives that others have consistently ignored.
It Starts with Listening
To locate the whitespace and help our customers solve tough problems we have to master what some have jokingly called the “Austin Boyd Shut-Up Method.” It’s the customer’s problem that we’re trying to solve, so we need to listen much more than we speak. We need to listen intently as the client explains what’s already been tried, then go off and ponder what we’ve heard and plumb the depths of their feedback for a solution.
It is truly magical to watch this process at work. By listening to our clients describe where they’ve been and what they’ve tried, we are able to step back and take a fresh look at their problem. When the listening process is working at its best, your patient attention and facilitation of a discussion will often result in a sudden jolt in the customer where they exclaim “why don’t we try this!?” You’ll just smile and nod because it was not a radical new idea or something that required extraordinary insight. Someone just needed to shut up and listen for a while to allow a smart business person to reach a conclusion, outside of the busy daily sphere of their many duties. Shut up and listen. You can solve a lot of problems in life with that approach.
What about MY whitespace?
Business isn’t the only place you’ll find jobs left undone. The “shut up” method works well in personal relationships, too. Some people want to talk about their problems; they have a need to express their frustrations and issues verbally. The best thing we can do as husbands, wives, parents, or friends is to stop trying to fix a problem and simply listen to what others have to say. We can learn a lot about ourselves by listening, and often the other person finds the whitespace solution all on their own while operating in the comfort of our close attention.
Try this on your marriage, parenting, and friendships. When you listen more than you talk, you empathize with your partner and you “earn the right to be heard.” Silence, rather than speech, gives you the productive environment to ponder the best approach before you put it into action. Listen first—and listen a lot—before you act. In personal relationships, like in business, abundant listening leads to amazing insights, and it produces harmonious productive outcomes.
Have you lost your boarding pass? Stop checking your pockets and listen. Your solution is waiting where you’d least expect to find it.