« An interview with Chris Crouch, creator of the GO System | Main | Reading gone wild! How to read five books a week (or why Scott Ginsberg is my hero) »

A discussion with Chris Crouch, creator of the GO System - Part 1

Continuing my interview series [1] with the top experts in personal productivity, I'm very pleased to share highlights from my conversation with Chris Crouch, creator of the GO System and author of Getting Organized: Learning How to Focus, Organize and Prioritize. Chris's company runs a certification program and sells products like an implementation kit. You can find some of his articles here.

I wrote about Chris's book a few months ago (see Some thoughts from the book "Getting Organized" by Chris Crouch), but frankly I had no clue about the depth of his understanding around that and many other topics. Luckily, they came up in our long and wide-ranging conversation - passion, the human nervous system, why getting productive is so hard, mythology, and more. So if you like big ideas and lots of great book references, enjoy!

(Note: Because there's so much interesting stuff, I've broken the interview into two relatively arbitrary parts. Stop by next week for the conclusion.)

Getting started in the field

Chris got his start somewhat by accident. He was a CPA in a big eight firm, which had a rigorous working environment and required employees to handle a lot in order to survive. (Not much different from these days!) Chris soon realized he needed to change his old way of doing things, which wasn't working. That lead to his studying the field of personal productivity, which he naturally took to. This in turn brought him to the attention of the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, who asked him to teach it to others. They made him an executive in the company, with carte blanche to go anywhere, do anything, and get any resources (books, or tapes, or new hires) to sift out the ideas that made the most sense. He says it's been a long journey, but it stared with a passion, rather than being a job or hobby. I love how he put it: It was something that I couldn't stop studying if I wanted to. Exactly!

Influences and models

Some of these thinkers were early influences:You'll note there aren't many traditional organizing books here. Chris owns many of these as well, but points out that people who need help aren't likely to read a 300 page book on organizing. (This focus on the practical is a theme of his.)

Challenges in getting organized

Chris talked a lot about personal issues standing in the way of being productive, what he likens to a Gordian knot. He claims you have to untie it one piece at a time. Some tools he recommends to deal with psychological issues are Transactional analysis and Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy.

In his book he writes about six reasons people get disorganized [2], and points out that dealing incoming items (e.g., paper, calls, emails) is the one most books address, though it's not the real issue. (And yes, this includes Getting Things Done.) He says getting down into personality issues is where you can really do some good. Chris gives procrastination as a good example, with at least a dozen causes. One of the primary ones is perfectionism, which he claims usually goes back to childhood experiences of trying to get it too right, where the price of a making mistakes is too high.

He has a similar take on books on handling email (he likes Bit Literacy: Productivity in the Age of Information and E-mail Overload by Mark Hurst). But what he doesn't see these books doing is addressing the underlying issues; he says they only deal with the symptoms. For example, none ask "Why would someone come into their office and turn their time, energy, and focus toward answering emails when they know they have got much higher priority work?"

To balance the seriousness of these big issues, Chris encourages an attitude of having fun unravelling them - of understand ourselves better.

On top-down vs. bottom-up approaches

I asked Chris about the idea that "bottom-up" advocates promote - that most of us are too overloaded with the day-to-day influx and commitments to think about bigger issues. David Allen is best known for this, and compares it to more "top-down" philosophies like Stephen Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People which stress starting from purpose and vision, then drilling down to projects and action.

I was surprised that he emphatically disagrees with this, and uses the analogy of solving a simple puzzle to show how vision is essential. In this exercise there are three approaches to working the puzzle: 1) Randomly pick up pieces and try to fit them together (what I'd call a brute-force search), 2) lay the pieces out and look for patterns (color, shape, pattern, etc.), and 3) look at the picture on the box. :-)

Which is better? The first is possible (see the Infinite monkey theorem) but makes you a monkey. The second is an improvement, and apparently applies what Fritz calls a Current Assessment. But the third starts with a vision, which he says is the best. In other words, "Where do I want to go?" is the Clear Vision, "Where am I now?" is the Current Assessment, and the final step is an action plan.

He says claiming starting bottom-up is a false economy, akin to the Tortoise and the Hare story. There are rare exceptions where the vision doesn't come first - acute situations requiring immediate attention (a fire or injury, say), something many of us are in perpetually - but he says we must quickly calm down and work back up to the higher levels.

On getting clients

Chris found that what works best is to do 30 minute preview presentations (Lunch & Learns), say at company meetings. This works well because the audience gets to see your content, gets to experience it, and get to experience you. Doing these programs removes the two fears potential clients have in bringing in someone new - content that might not be good, and a speaker who doesn't motivate.

In addition, he wrote many White Papers and immediately got them published. NAPO was one of his big target markets, so he wrote about what it takes to be successful in the organizing business, and how to develop business clients. He says these papers help ensure only serious prospects call - they've taken the time to read 20 pages, which filters out those less interested. This means he's reduced the odds of wasting time on the others. (Seems a nice application of The 80/20 Principle.)

On staying on top of the field

Staying on top of the field is something Chris loves, what he calls increasing his profound knowledge. Chris tracks news, books, and ideas on his own (no assistants), and uses a hybrid paper/electronic system. Everything, regardless of storage form, is indexed by Paper Tiger software (see my take here). He enters titles, notes, and keywords for journals, files (digital and paper), then uses the system to search for related items as needed. The program then spits out a code indicating where the information is stored. (My big-arse text file does this, albeit in a seat-of-the-pants manner. But the point is to use something that works.)

He's also a fan of taking a concept apart using mind mapping. He says the process helps extract the usable insights, and helps him digest and play with them for a while. He uses Mindjet as the mapping tool. After doing this, he says it's smarter than your memory - it's starting to get encoded in your brain.


Reader Comments

There are no comments for this journal entry. To create a new comment, use the form below.

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
All HTML will be escaped. Hyperlinks will be created for URLs automatically.