Dear CMO:

You’re stuck. Admit it. Whatever you’ve been trying to do has ground to a halt and you’ve been staring at that same patch of dead air before your eyes for 20 minutes. You want to believe you’ll burst into action any second now, but the reality is, you won’t. Because you’re stuck.

We’re creatures of habit. This isn’t a bad thing, of course, because life is too short to consider all the options of whether cereal really is – or isn’t – better when you pour milk on it. But occasionally it can make us grind to a halt because our mental maps that show us what we’ve done before unfortunately don’t go where we’re trying to go. We just run off the edge like the maps of old that said, “beyond this, there be dragons.”

We get stuck because we like to rely on what worked before, whether it’s a way of doing things or the thing itself. And the way we get unstuck is to carefully undo those things so we can keep moving.

Don’t fall in love with your typeface: when writing, be willing to throw it out and do it all over again. When we find we just can’t finish that brilliant thought because it gets tangled up, throw it out and rewrite the entire paragraph. Say it. Call someone on the phone and explain it to them in your own manner. Do it differently. By throwing it out, you’ll clear the mental map you thought you were supposed to be following. Chances are, you had the wrong map.

Question the givens: when working strategically, be willing to question what you thought was unquestionable. Sometimes this is difficult because even identifying a sacred cow as a “given” can be frightening to those who have always considered such things to be beyond question. However, knowing that self-awareness is the first necessary step, start listing your givens. “We must launch on this date. We can’t launch without having this project finished. Only this team can accomplish this project. We must be 100% done before we move to the next step.” All debatable. So debate them, one at a time. Debate them in combinations. Which is better – launching without the sub-project done, pushing the launch date back, or pulling in different people to do only the part of the project that must be done to launch on time? Question the things that you’ve neglected to question before, work them in different combinations, and you’ll find that your options just expanded exponentially.

Remove pieces from the board: when developing programs or campaigns, getting stuck almost always means some external entity has stopped moving. At times like these, it’s often wise to reduce the number of moving parts. Once all the moving parts are in your hands, you’ll find yourself remarkably free to do whatever you want.  How can you accomplish your aims without having to rely on others? Your focus may shift, but will your customers care? Don’t fall victim to the “consistency trap,” where you’ve mentally painted yourself into a corner and are reluctant to change your position. Remember, this is about how your customers will react, not what you’ve been thinking for the past 90 days, that counts.

It’s been said that when newly on-boarded managers fail, it’s because they diligently set out to fight the war they were fighting in their last company. Sometimes, it’s our own personal experiences and mental maps that bog us down the worst, because they always worked before.

Don’t be afraid to throw it out and start over. Question your givens. Remove pieces from the board. All examples of strategic shifting.