Why You Need The 4 Ds In Your business | Slim Digital

Why You Need The Four Ds

May 26, 2015



You’re probably doing some of the Four Ds right now, but like most things, it’s most effective when you don’t just do it, and you don’t just do it all the time, but you do it with the full understanding of what you’re doing it and why.


I learned about the Four Ds when I was working on Operations in East Timor for the Army. I was getting stressed about the number of tasks that were getting thrown my way when a more experienced officer told me about the Four Ds.


Drop: Sometimes you’re given a task just because someone higher up has an idea and their first reaction to any idea is to tell someone to get working on it. It’s not necessarily an idea that helps meet any particular goal or mitigate any particular weakness. Often, it’s just an idea that popped into their head; therefore they think it is gold. You need to drop these tasks. Yes, drop them. Don’t do them. Obviously this is a calculated risk. You’re betting that the boss won’t ever ask for a status report and the more you know the boss, the better you will be able to identify which tasks you can drop. One last thing, you have to have a backup plan just in case you lose the bet. That comes in the form of a plausible reason for not starting yet and “I didn’t think you were serious,” is not good enough.


Delay: A Delay task is one you think might be a drop task, but you’re not sure. You come up with a plausible reason for not starting it and you put it on a mental Delay list. If the boss doesn’t follow up on it, it gets moved over to the Drop list. If the boss does follow up, it gets moved to one of the next two lists.


Delegate: Sure, you don’t have peons to boss around. Or do you? Maybe you just need to broaden your scope. Here’s a story about a developer who outsourced all his tasks to China. There’s a bigger issue with delegation. Sometimes you don’t know when to let go. The mere fact that you can do it better than someone else isn’t sufficient reason to do it yourself. That’s why there aren’t many entrepreneurs. It’s incredibly difficult to own a business because you’re the expert and you’ll have to fight the natural tendency to do things yourself just because you can do them better. It’s more important to get other people to do the things they can so you can be freed up to do the things they can’t. That’s how you work on a company instead of in it.


Do: You knew it was coming. Some things you just have to do. Often these are urgent items where the boss flies into your office and says they need that report/brief/stats/miracle in 30 minutes so he can brief his boss. Nothing impresses like keeping the boss’ boss off the boss’ back. Also, there is often no way to get out of going to meetings, but there are ways to pick the right ones.


Everyone knows that when you want to look ‘good’ at work then, perception is half the battle. The other half, of course, is doing a good job. The point of the Four Ds is to help you focus in on those things you do well so you can constantly be seen being good at what you do and the things that matter to the people around you.


Sure, you won’t be able to eliminate everything you’re not good at or you think is a rubbish task. Sometimes the boss is going to demand you do those tasks. Just do what they want. If they’re focused on the trivial while allowing the important things to slide, it probably won’t come back to bite you.


If this sounds a lot like a Lazy Man’s Guide to Success, you’re not really wrong, but the word “lazy” might have a worse connotation than it deserves. Lucy Kellaway of the Financial Times wrote a great piece a few months ago on the topic. A highly successful friend experienced a change in lifestyle that prevented her from spending as much time in the office. Her productivity improved. While I don’t know all the details, it’s likely that this person was doing too much in the first place. When circumstances forced her to be more efficient, she got better at Dropping, Delaying, and Delegating and perhaps unexpectedly was able to spend more time Doing the things that actually mattered.


To look further at how laziness might not deserve its bad reputation, I’d like to compare and contrast the personnel strategies of Jack Welch’s GE and that of Prussian strategist Karl von Clausewitz as employed by the Imperial German Army.


SLiM DIGITAL THE 4 DS Fig 1 Clausewitz v Jack Welch’s HR Policy (Abetti, 2006, p.79)


It’s not the lazy non-achievers that are pushed either out of the organization or out to the front lines, it’s the people who are either stupid or in Jack Welch’s more refined terminology, those who didn’t believe in the corporate goals who found themselves on the outs.


In the aforementioned article, Lucy Kellaway put it correctly when she said:

Laziness, according to the modern view, is like an illness or something we need to be coached out of. Instead, as my friend has demonstrated, the reverse is true—it is something senior executives need to be coached into.”




And look at this assessment. It’s not the clever, energetic folks that make the top field commanders, but the clever and lazy folks. It’s that trite cliché, “Work smarter, not harder,” writ large. Sometimes simple brute force is the only way to get something done, but it sure as heck shouldn’t be the first line of attack.


Maybe it’s time we started rewarding those people that apply the Four Ds and just get it done while still managing to leave work on time.


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