Lateral Movement

Bruce Lee, as he taught martial arts, lectured about the economy of motion. This is the belief that no effort should be wasted. Every ounce of your energy should be direct, to the point, and with no extraneous movement. It’s about cutting out what’s not essential. To do this, is to be efficient, or economical. And to be economical, you need a goal. Without a goal, you might as well sit there and swing your arms around like a three year old.

This idea is just as relevant to business today. Even though it seems obvious to have a goal, I don’t know how many times that mistake is made. People start to work on things without really thinking about what they are trying to achieve. I know it’s not easy to clearly define goals. It does take some time to sit down and hash it out.

So if you have poorly defined goals, or as I have seen lately no goals, and a room full of people who are working with no clear direction, what happens? I call it lateral movement. Everyone is doing something, but the work is not moving towards a real solution. Since there are no goals and therefore no clear way to qualify an idea, any idea is fine, just as long as it suits someone’s sense of contribution. In that situation, you could pull anyone in off the street and ask their opinion and it would be valid.

The point is if you can’t tell me how an assignment, a task, or even an edit gets us closer to our goal, then it’s not worth pursuing. It’s not how a business should operate. It gets worse when someone dumps a ton of lateral movement work in your lap at 5:00 pm that’s due the next day. Not only is it pointless, it’s also stealing away your personal time now. I am actually involved in the process right now with a client who doesn’t seem to understand that the computer screen is horizontal, but the vertical comp she sketched for some reason doesn’t fit right. Got to love marketers like that, they don’t have an ounce of design skill, but they don’t let that stop them.

Back in the day one of my Web sites I designed was featured by Communication Arts Magazine online. It was right up there between and This happened when I was working for Dan O’Saben. I learned a lot from Dan. The day he reviewed that design he had nothing to add to it. There were plenty of designs that did need his help, but not this one. No lateral movement and our reward was a site that got national attention.

Good direction will lead to good work and it starts with a goal. But, it’s the bad creative directors, account directors and executives that are driven by ego and control more than goals and leadership who are at the root of lateral movement. Clients can cause it too, but it’s hard to complain too much about the people who are paying you.


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