Martin, the very tanned ski instructor, told us before we went up that when we got off the top of the T-Bar and looked down, we would be wondering why he had brought us up this far. He was not wrong. It seemed impossibly steep for us intermediate/beginner-level skiers. My wife, Claire, just couldn't bring herself to look down, glancing across to the edges of the run instead. Madeleine, my eldest at 13, who I had bribed to even get onto the T-Bar, was very quiet. Which left Annabel, at 10, who was looking up at me with a very angry scowl on her face. I was going to pay for what happened next in so many ways from so many people.
Just getting to this stage had been a test of our endurance. While the first two days of skiing on the beginner slopes had gone without a hitch, this last day was lining up to be a doozey. It started with waking up and finding out that the frost was so hard that the water pipes had frozen in the bach we were staying in. So, no tea or shower. Looking outside I could see our car resembled an ice cube with wheels.
Minus six degree temperatures were the norm as we drove over the mountain pass to the start of the ski field where we met a nice friendly mountain man who told us with a smile that chains were required. Great! Both Claire and I were 'wheel chain virgins' so off I went with the rental car instructions, which told us to tie the red chain to the yellow hook. My hands were numb and so I thought was my brain as I struggled – until I realized that THERE WERE NO RED CHAINS ON THE DAMN THING. And before I get a barrage of comments that, as a colour-blind individual, any normal person could have figured it out, I can confirm that Claire – who is not afflicted as I am – can vouch for me. But we endured and fixed the Mensa puzzle that was the car chains to get our front tyres wrapped in steel and were able to rattle our way up the mountain. So far so good.
As it was the third day on the mountain, we were experienced in where to go to vacuum our wallet for ski-lift tickets and, likewise, how to leverage our feet into the rental boots without destroying a tendon or two. So, hot, tired and rather frazzled, we made it onto the snow only to find Annabel's ski bindings were not working. Claire and Madeleine were fine, so they disappeared in a daze of snow ploughs leaving me with a very upset girl and skis that didn't fit.
Three times I went back and forth from the snow to the rental shop to get these bindings to work. By the end, I must admit to being a tad short with my comments to Clarke from Canada who was working on the bindings – sorry Clarke.
Anyway, we eventually had a good morning on the easy beginner slopes and then decided to head up – with help from instructor Martin – to the upper climes of the mountain and the first T-Bar station. Once up there the view was amazing. You looked through the range of snow-covered mountains across the Canterbury plains to a rather smoggy Christchurch in the far distance. But, unfortunately, this brief moment of tranquillity was quickly destroyed as a gaggle of groovy snow boarders flew across the tips of our skis. It was time to get serious and make it down the mountain.
Martin told us we would take it really slowly and just do one turn across the side of the slope and then wait at the other end. He went first and made it look effortless. Claire was next and promptly nosedived into the edge of the mountain. Now, before I present my reaction, I must add that in the two days prior she was the only person who hadn't fallen over, at all, even on the really slippery icy parts – and she had a slight smugness about the fact, too. So I admit I may have yelled out some 'encouragement' that could have been taken the wrong way.
Anyway, the girls were next and they coped, and I brought up the rear and managed not to bowl them all over. We then snaked our way very gradually down the slope with many a small mishap along the way. The extra speed from the steeper slope made everything seem to come at you in one big white rush.
There was so much to remember – lean forward, put your weight on the downhill ski, look ahead of you, keep relaxed (yeah right!), bend your knees, hands out in front. Halfway down, Martin stopped and let us get our breath back. With the wind chill, the temperature must have been a small minus figure but we were all hot from the work.
Then as we gathered our thoughts he did something really smart – he went round each of us and told us to focus on just one specific thing (unique for each of us) for the next few turns. Forget the list of eight or so we needed to do – it was just one from Martin's list.
I was told to remember to keep my hands out in front of me. That's all. Try it yourself as you are sitting down. Move both your hands so they are in front of you and parallel with your shoulders and see what happens. You should naturally lean forward. Once I did this my weight moved onto the front of my skis and gave me slightly more control over my turns. Now, it was still very messy I admit, but it felt like progress was being made.
Madeleine had to weight her downhill ski more, Annabel to look further ahead and Claire to bend her knees more. We all made it to the very end and the start of the T-Bar queue. And then it was back up to do it all again – with no change of instruction – just focus on that one thing Martin had told us. And, by George, we started to make some progress. Slowly, I must admit, and not without some snow carnage along the way but by the end of the last run we were better than when we had started.
This all got me thinking on the drive back to the bach. I remembered how this strategy was similar to something I had read in a book on the flight down (REWORK by the founders of 37 Signals, it gets a quick review later in this month's newsletter). It mentioned the power of doing a few things very well rather than trying to spread your attention across many and achieving little success in any of them.
Gordon Ramsey, the celebrity chef, is a proponent of this strategy too. When sent in to fix an ailing restaurant his first task is frequently to cull the menu down. It allows for less waste and lets the chef focus on improving the quality of what's left. Most online marketers could do with their own Gordon Ramsey experience, too.
We often come across people who are trying to spread their efforts across too wide a 'menu' of online marketing tactics. Search, social, email marketing and even affiliate marketing are all on their weekly list of things to do, none being completed with much level of proficiency.
This month's customer coaching call talked to this point, with my rant early on in the discussion about the difference between being effective and being efficient. I laboured the point a bit to get the message home but nevertheless knowing 'what' to do is obviously more valuable – and is a sign of being effective – instead of just being efficient at getting 'things done'.
Being a father of a teenage daughter, I see this whole effective vs efficient theory playing out with the amount of time Madeleine spends on Facebook, MSN chat and text, all to ensure she remains connected with her group of friends. Each of these is a highly efficient communication tool, but are they effective? Do they bring her any closer to her friends?
I used to meet up with my mates for an hour or so each week to walk around the village and chat (grunt) like teenage boys did back then and we still managed to create quite close friendships. I'm not that convinced that all this barrage of banal e-gossip actually does bring people closer together.
Now, I know that all this discussion of 'focusing on the few' will make those with a perfectionist personality feel very, very uncomfortable. Because no doubt as I barrelled through the white stuff with my hands duly out in front, I was probably committing a mass of ski posture sins along the way. But it didn't matter – I was making progress. That's the fallacy of a perfection culture. By following its path you never give yourself the right to really focus on the few and perfect these whilst letting the others remain very rough around the edges.
And so, while you may cringe when you see the layout of your email marketing campaign – it may not matter a dot. Because for your industry, knowing how to attract your type of prospects, the focus should be on organic search and growing your exposure through Google, something that you do very well indeed. And likewise, I have seen many a business 'hidden' to Google searches that was successfully built on very solid ground with good old-fashioned direct-mail promotional flyers being mailed out once a month, supplemented every other week with an email message.