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If you wait for all the lights to turn green, you’ll never leave the house

“If you wait for all the lights to turn green, you’ll never leave the house.”

Red, yellow and green traffic signalI hadn’t heard this phrase before last weekend when a candidate for national leadership position in the Public Relations Society of America used it to describe why she decided to run for a position.

However, it really resonated with me.  I sometimes feel that as communicators we fall into two buckets:

1) Those who dive in the deep end with no idea how deep the water is, or even if it’s clean and
2) Those who research an idea to death so afraid of what might be on the other side.

As outside counsel, I find myself trying to drive that stake somewhere in the middle offering both an outside perspective and caution to spend at least some time on research and discussion with affected parties. Before diving in, I always ask:

Why do you want to…?

What is it you’re hoping to achieve?

Most often, these two questions lead to a deeper discussion that in the end brings everyone back to a clarity of purpose and strategy.

In the meantime, there are twists and turns and everyone learns a bit more about each other’s viewpoints, and strengths. Questions that might be thrown into the discussion include:

What resources do you need to do this?

Can you derail another project to make this happen? If so, what are the ramifications of doing that?

Who else do we need to include in these discussions?

What else do we need to know before moving ahead?

It’s during these discussions that I often reach into my network to get more information. There are many ways we all do that regularly and social media can make it even easier. Sharing our knowledge, expertise and vision with each other helps us all to make a move without all the assurances in place.

When you have a trusted network of peers, we can leave the house more easily knowing the lights aren’t all green. What questions do you ask before diving in? Or, how did you get comfortable just diving in?

I know I prefer to leave the house together, asking and answering questions together.

Green light!

By |2018-03-18T22:54:51+00:00August 5th, 2011|Leadership & Networking|12 Comments

About the Author:

Mary Deming Barber, APR, Fellow PRSA, runs a strategic communications consultancy where she helps clients understand how to integrate new media into traditional communication programs. Mary has counseled clients in Tacoma, Anchorage, San Francisco, Oregon, and Colorado for nearly 40 years working with a variety of food organizations, several agencies, and as a key team member on two successful US Senate campaigns. 


  1. Doug Fenichel, APR August 5, 2011 at 7:06 am - Reply

    Good column. Waiting for the light to turn green is also a great way to delay doing something you don’t want to do. I always ask people what makes them different from their competitors and, of course, what’s th eone question they don’t want to be asked.

    May I repost to my blog with appropriate credit?

    • mary August 5, 2011 at 7:09 am - Reply

      Great point Doug. Please feel free to repost with credit. What is your Bligh address? Would like to read it as well. Thank you for reading.

  2. Mark W. McClennan, APR August 5, 2011 at 9:03 am - Reply

    Nice post. I agree with you. There are sayings throughout history that also reinforce this:

    The perfect is the enemy of the good
    Fortune favors the quick/bold
    Get there the fastest with the mostest
    Or you can listen to Larry Ellison of Oracle who frequently states the only decisions he regrets are the one’s he didn’t make quickly enough.

    Back when I was in college, there was a street (South Salina?) in Syracuse New York. One of the goals was to see if you could get through the 21 traffic lights without stopping. No one ever did it. The lights will NEVER be all green and that’s ok. Sometimes having to stop and refocus along the way is actually a good thing.

    • mary August 5, 2011 at 9:18 am - Reply

      Great thoughts Mark. I appreciate you reading as well. I like your analogy of making all the lights on a long street as well. It’s just so hard to ever have all the lights in our favor.

  3. DeAnn Baxter August 5, 2011 at 12:44 pm - Reply

    Really good points, Mary. In both my personal and professional life, I like to think I fall somewhere in the middle of jumping right in and getting caught up in too many questions. As a PR practitioner, it’s obviously important to be proactive and get all the facts up front; however, you never know what crazy scenarios will be thrown at you. That’s when it pays to have a solid network and feel your way as you go along. Those things happen and they shouldn’t stop you from taking chances. …I just have to remind myself of that in all aspects of my life!!

    • mary August 5, 2011 at 2:11 pm - Reply

      I hear you DeAnn. It’s hard to make those decisions on when to jump in but if you’re prepared and have the network in place, it’s usually a little easier.

  4. […] If you wait for all the lights to turn green, you’ll never leave the house, by Mary […]

  5. Ari Herzog August 7, 2011 at 6:23 am - Reply

    Before I enrolled in my first semester of graduate school, I planned to register in one course and see how things go before taking more. I was working full-time during the day and these would be night classes. One of my work colleagues, who was a recent graduate of that program, suggested I dive in and take as many courses as I can handle. I thought about it, and registered for two.

    In subsequent semesters, I kept that structure of two, and sometimes three, courses.

    • mary August 7, 2011 at 9:06 am - Reply

      I think school is one of those places where one does better by diving in. On the other hand, Ari, I’m sure you gave the idea of grad school considerable thought and planning before starting.

  6. Gini Dietrich August 7, 2011 at 1:06 pm - Reply

    I rode my bike super early this morning. There wasn’t any traffic out and the streets were very quiet. I hit every single green light without having to slow down once. It was a really nice feeling and I got a really good ride in.

    But I also didn’t hydrate or eat enough on the bike, because I’m so accustomed to drinking and eating while stopped at a light.

    So there are some advantages to just going when you’re ready to go. I like the idea of being somewhere in the middle – you get a good workout in AND you eat and drink properly.

    • mary August 7, 2011 at 1:16 pm - Reply

      Somewhere in the middle is a great place to be. It reminds me of AA Milne’s poem:

      Halfway down the stairs
      is a stair
      where i sit.
      there isn’t any
      other stair
      quite like
      i’m not at the bottom,
      i’m not at the top;
      so this is the stair
      I always

  7. […] 5. If you wait for all the lights to turn green, you’ll never leave the house […]

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