Doug Fleener's

The Day Makes the Year


Slowing Down the “Clock”

Jan 10, 2024

Slowing Down the Clock" is one of my favorite practices from my book, The Day Makes the Year (Makes a Life).  While it is in the section with the practice of Relentless Simplicity, it also applies to leading in The Day. It’s also only appropriate to share this with the Browns and 49ers in the playoffs. 

One of the ways to practice Relentless Simplicity is by learning to slow down your thinking, especially when facing challenges or impending deadlines. By calming the storm inside our minds, we can focus on the one or two elements that truly matter. When you do this, you can see and create incredible opportunities.  

The movie Draft Day is my favorite example of the power of slowing down to see more opportunities. In this film, Kevin Costner's character, Sonny Weaver Jr., is the General Manager of the Cleveland Browns and is under immense pressure to make decisions that will shape the team's future during the NFL Draft. During a crucial moment in the film, Sonny recounts a legendary anecdote about Joe Montana in the 1989 Super Bowl. 

The San Francisco Niners are down three points. They are on their seven-yard line with 3:20 left in the game. In the huddle, the players are feeling the pressure of the moment. Not Montana. He looks up in the stands, points at a guy, and then asks his teammates, "Isn't that John Candy?"  

Talk about being calm, cool, and collected. Montana is losing in the Super Bowl, and he casually mentions seeing John Candy. His players suddenly relax. They know Joe has this. The Browns march down the field with Joe Montana hitting John Taylor with a ten-yard touchdown pass with 34 seconds left. The 49ers win the Super Bowl 20-16. 

Sonny's point was that while nobody can stop a ticking clock, the great ones always find a way to slow it down. When he faced the biggest decision of his life, Sonny successfully implemented this strategy.  

Montana’s serenity amidst the moment's pressure is a lesson in the power of a calm mind. By slowing down internally, he expanded his horizons of possibilities. He demonstrated that sometimes, we can slow our minds and be fully locked in the present to see the opportunities that lie before us. That's how you practice Relentless Simplicity. 

So, how can you channel your inner Joe Montana and slow your thinking? 

Be present. Narrow your focus to what you're trying to simplify. For example, say you have an unhappy client due to another person's mistake. Don't let yourself wonder what will happen if you lose the client or your unhappiness with the colleague. All that matters at that moment is the issue and potential solutions. 

Be clear on the issue or the opportunity. At Bose, I was in a meeting that was going absolutely nowhere. You could see the frustrations on everyone's faces. Finally, Peter Theran, head of the division's marketing, interrupted everyone, paused, and asked a straightforward question: "What problem are we trying to solve?" Not surprisingly, there were many different opinions on the problem, which was why the meeting was stalling. 

Finding solutions and making decisions is much easier when you're clear on the issue or opportunity. You've slowed down the clock. And I have asked that question thousands of times since. Thanks, Pete! 

Think out loud or draw or write it out. You can look a bit crazy when people see you talking to yourself in your office or cube. But it works. When I'm trying to slow down my thinking, I start walking and talking it out. Talking out loud gives order to your thoughts. So does writing things down on a notepad. As a visual person, I like sketching things on a whiteboard or in an app. No matter how you do it, you slow down your thought process when you impose some order. 

Slowing down your thinking process doesn't mean being slow to act. It's about being deliberate and seeing the one or two opportunities hidden in the plethora of information before you. 

Much like Montana in that Super Bowl, you can benefit from occasionally taking your eyes off the immediate challenge and looking into the stands. That's how you become one of the great ones.  

Also, I highly recommend you watch Draft Day. I worked with the leadership team at Brighton to use it to teach leadership. Laura and I must have watched that movie twelve times, and we always found something to take away from it.  

So let me ask three questions:  

1) If you were a football player, would you be more like Joe Montana or Charlie Brown? (I know my answer…”Good grief!) 

2) What or who is your go-to during a stressful time at work? When I ran a store, it was a special friend of mine named Mrs. Fields. 

3) Which of the above suggestions can you apply to slow your “clock” down?