We’ve all had the feeling of working hard and feeling like nothing is happening. It may be your sales prospecting efforts, or you could be trying to sell an idea internally and it’s just not getting any traction. It’s easy to think that you need to ditch your process and try something completely new. There’s a popular saying that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. That’s a useful reminder to get people to consider new approaches, but sometimes it may actually be the wrong advice to give someone, if they’re following a sound process.
One of the potential drawbacks to following a process is that a process tends to imply measurable forward movement, and the lack of any signs of it can be pretty discouraging.
When I was working my way through college, about the only job I was qualified for was as a laborer on home remodeling construction sites. The new guys always got handed the plum assignment of breaking up concrete slabs with a 10# sledgehammer.
The first thing you notice about reinforced concrete slabs is that they are hard. You take that first mighty swing and bring the hammer down squarely on the slab—and nothing happens.
You take another mighty swing, same result. After a few more swings, you’re already starting to feel the cramps in your fingers, the sweat is starting to drip into your eyes, and you’re maybe starting to get discouraged.
But then the next swing produces a mighty CRACK!, and a big chunk of concrete falls off. From there, the rest is fairly easy. Sure, you’re still swinging a sledgehammer in the South Florida summer sun, so maybe easy is a relative term, but at least you’re seeing results.
What’s important to keep in mind is that whether you see them or not, results are happening. The outside of the concrete may look unscathed, but the energy you are putting into it is doing something. It may seem like the last swing was the only one that mattered, but every single swing of the hammer contributed equally to the end result.
Prospecting and networking are the same way—you make the calls, send the emails, ask for referrals, and sometimes you feel like those first few swings of the hammer. But the energy you’re putting into it is doing something. The important thing is to keep swinging.
If you’re trying to master a skill, you sometimes face the same issue. When you first learn, you pick up a lot of new knowledge and skill quickly, but you will eventually hit a plateau where it seems that no matter how hard you try, you’re not getting any better. But keep putting the energy into it, and something is happening. It may not happen today, or tomorrow, but the only sure thing is that if you stop, nothing will happen.
One other thing about pounding the rock: swinging a sledgehammer is dangerous, unless you constantly keep your eye on what you’re swinging at. Keep your eyes on the process, not the prize.
Keep putting in the energy. Keep on pounding the rock.
Note: I got the idea for the title from a story about the philosophy of San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who based it on this quote by Jacob Riis:
“When nothing seems to help, I go look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that blow that did it, but all that had gone before.”