The Pertinent Negative

In our shops we are always inundated with questions.  How much for this?  What about that?  Can you design me something for my event?  Always with my favorite instruction, “Just do something cool!”

Sometimes, there are challenges from our own staff too.  These often start with a litany of questions.  What are we going to do about that order?  So and so is sick, who is going to fill in?  That art didn’t get approved for that job today, does it still have to ship?

One way to cut through the fluff and get to the real meat of what is needed and solve the puzzle is to borrow a tip from the medical community: The Pertinent Negative.  Unless you are a doctor or a nurse, you may not have heard this term before.

I think it is perfect for our industry.  Let’s take a look.

In the medical community, they use pertinent negatives to narrow down choices to formulate a correct diagnosis.  For example, if the patient’s chief complaint is chest pain, pertinent negatives could be:  No history of trauma to the chest.  No history of fever or productive cough.  No past history of similar symptoms.  No pain to the ribs.  Had a normal lung exam.

Every one of these negative findings gets the physician closer to the real root of the problem.

If we use a similar approach to resolving our challenges, we can get closer to our industry-driven truth quicker.  How many times have you mumbled under your breath just after the forehead slap, “Why didn’t they tell me that?”.  What if instead, you could have pulled that information out much earlier?

Asking your own set of pertinent negatives could set you up for faster success by driving down into the crux of the challenge by eliminating the things that don’t matter.

It’s essentially lopping off branches of the decision tree that aren’t applicable.

How many times has your production team set up a job only to discover that there are youth shirts that need to be printed and the art is too big to fit?  (I know, I know; your shop is perfect.)  At order entry, all the rep would have had to do is ask “Do you want us to make the adult art the same size as the youth so you can use the same set of screens?”  That way, the art staff can create it so it works from the beginning.  This matters as you don’t want to lose the revenue from the screens, but more importantly the lost time on the production floor as everyone is standing around wondering what to do.  Head or butt scratching avoided is generally a good thing.

What about your in-hands date for the order?  Do you know if there is any fluff built in or not?  This matters when you have a jam-packed schedule or some seemingly tight deadlines.  If you are asking up front when you took the order, you already know the answer.  Not all jobs are event driven.  A simple question like, “How firm is this in-hands date?”, can go a long way.

Sometimes just some simple questions can pull out the information you need to make good decisions.  “Will this be shipping on your company’s account number?”.  “For your order you stated you want to use American Apparel, would another brand work for you as well?”.  “Do you have copyright permission to use that logo?”  “Our minimum order is 12, but you get a price break at 24, would you like to increase your order quantity?”

The Pertinent Negative question can also be a huge boon for art directors or creatives.  When designing, these folks often get the short end of the stick when it comes to what I like to call “complete directions”.

If you have a client wanting more than one design, or makes multiple revisions to the same art, you are doing this wrong.  Why work that hard?  Especially when most shops give or greatly reduce their art charges to land the job in the first place.  Your sales staff or customer service reps need to do a better job of collecting information before anyone starts creating anything.  Every time you have to make an art change you should ask how we could have avoided that step from the order entry funnel.  You guessed it, with a question.

Asking simple questions can be a huge time saver and also free up some creative thinking by getting down to what the customer really wants to see.  “Thanks for sending in your logo.  Are there any brand restrictions to modifying it with different colors, textures or styles?”  “Our standard full front design is sized to fit within a 12” x 12” area, will that be ok?”  “Do you care what typestyle we use for this job?”  “Your embroidery order has some very tiny type.  It may look better with just the logo icon, will that be ok?”  “For your rush order, we’ll need the art approval on Tuesday, can you be available at 10:00 am to approve the art?”

Also, The Pertinent Negative is a great management tool for your employees, especially during hiring or performance reviews.  When you ask your employees questions, you are engaging them in the discussion.  Dialog and conversation are good things.  “Our start time is in the morning at 6:30 am, do you have reliable transportation to get here on time?”  “You did a great job these last six months learning the embroidery trimmer position.  Have you ever thought about learning to operate a machine?”  “Do you have any experience with Excel or other office programs?”  “Just curious in your last management role, have you ever hired or fired anyone?”  “Do you feel you have the right amount of training for your job?”

As you can see, The Pertinent Negative can be a great tool to dislodge information from people that might not normally share, or even know to share, things that might be relevant to your company.  It is as simple as asking questions that can end with a Yes or a No, and then following up as to why they answered the question that way if you need to do something with that answer.

All you have to do is ask.  Which is always the tricky part.

“Every sale has five basic obstacles: no need, no money, no hurry, no desire, no trust.” – Zig Ziglar

“Rule number 1: Never lose money.  Rule number 2: Never forget rule number 1.” – Warren Buffett

“A problem is a chance for you to do your best.” -Duke Ellington

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