The Impossible...


In yesterday's London Times, there is an article about Paul Mealor who wrote music for the 9/11 ceremonies in New York and the british royal wedding in April (paid for content, here: In it, he says that he received 17,000 thank you letters and he replied to them all. No, that's not a typo. Seventeen thousand.

It made me think about two things. One, anyone who feels they don't have time to write at least one thank you note a week has a new goal. If Paul Mealor can write 17,000, you can write one. If you can't find one person a week, you're not looking hard enough. Even your doctor's receptionist who is always cheery and helpful, will appreciate a thank you note saying so.

Two, the unofficial US Army Corps of Engineer's motto: "The difficult we do at once. The impossible takes a little longer", should belong to us all. If someone asked me to write 17,000 thank you notes in a month, or even over several months, I'd say it was impossible. Quite clearly, it's not. So what's on your 'can't do, impossible' list, and how could you get it done?

Alternative theory

 Or he's dissembling.  Entirely possible that he received 17,000 thank you letters in a week.  Don't doubt that's possible at all.  Suppose we assume it takes 10 minutes to read a thank you note/letter then write a reply, address the envelope, put the reply in the envelope, attach a stamp and drop it in your out tray to send out.  Suppose we assume that he does nothing else all day (i.e. isn't doing his day job) and works 12 hours a day (the rest being sleep, travel, eating, toilets breaks &c) 7 days a week.  That's 72 replies a day.  At that rate is would take him thirty three and three quarter weeks to send all 17,000 replies and that presumes that he does nothing else, works 7 days a week, doesn't get writers cramp (which personally I'd be crippled by by day two) and doesn't get distracted.  During this time (about two thirds of a year) he'd be not generating any income at all so he'd better hope there's plenty of residuals coming in, to cover the £6,120 postage for sending out those replies by second class inland mail if nothing else.

More likely his agent or manager has a room full of minions who go through his post, sort out the mail he actually needs to see then dumps or responds to the rest as needed, most responses probably beign a standard message, possibly printed on the back of a photograph with his signature printed on the front.  I know, not very well but typically well enough that when we meet we remember who's turn it is to get a round in, a number of people in the performing/creative arts business (friends of friends, cousins of friends, people I was at university with and walked home from the bar one night because they were worried about being attacked &c) and know from chatting that they tend to have something similar set up for their fan mail.  Mostly we're talking hundreds of items a week here, maybe rising to thousands if they've just a had film out or won an award.  Unless a letter shows signs of you having actually met them in a context they are likely to remember (e.g. "Thank you for speaking to our group last week") or refers something they are interested in (e.g. thanking them for a charitable donation) then they're probably not going to see it.



Skype: stephenbooth_uk  | DiSC: 6137

"Start with the customer and work backwards, not with the tools and work forwards" - James Womack




I'm disappointed with your post.  You've used some productivity math to question someone else's integrity.  

I've sent hundreds of thank you notes in a night.  

HUNDREDS.  In one night.

Yes, someone else had stamped and addressed the envelopes.  And some of my notes looked quite similar to one another.  Funny that people surely knew that...and STILL commented on the gesture years later.

The people who stamped and addressed them were NOT my minions.  Is that what you call directs of YOURS?  

Believe it or not, we all enjoyed this part of the job even though it could be a form of drudgery.  We liked engaging in a bit of thoughtful kindness, even when my wife had to drive so I could sign another hundred notes.

Your cynicism is unwarranted.




140 thank yous in one sitting

I'm with Mark on the "do-ability" of this. I did 140 thank yous to conference volunteers in one night. The notes (some very similar in text), THE ENVELOPES, and signing all of them. I took them to the conference co-planner and she had someone take the card from the envelope, she signed the card next to my signature, and someone else re-enveloped the card. Took her about an hour or two with other tasks. We sent them that day to our organizations largely through internal mail. Much smaller example than Mark's, but with addressing help, it would have been fairly easy to do many more.

Scott Delinger

DiSC: 5137

Mark's comment

As a recipient of one of Mark's notes: It is worth reaching for the impossible.  I know he is busy - we all are - but I look at the note every day in my office as it is fixed in a place where I can't miss it.  His words and sentiment inspire me every day - and I don't care if those words were written 1000 times to 1000 other people.  It makes a difference to me - I can't think of a better return on an investment  Thanks Mark, Mike, Maggie and Wendii for all you do.

Best wishes,

Sheila (from glorious Middlebury Vermont)

You're welcome...


Glad you appreciated it.  As it turns out, I have just finished writing, stamping and mailing all 70 or so from Australia, started on the plane back.  Took about an hour and a half, I should guess, overall.

And, it would appear that Stephen has taken my note quite personally, as he has asked us to cancel his membership completely.  Sorry to see him go. 


Technical knowledge


I enjoyed our time together this weekend.  We spent 3+ hours together while I did a training run for an upcoming race.  As your mentioned in one of the many podcasts, I feel like I know you guys.  I am technically trained--physician with specialty training with a law degree.  My effectiveness as a manager--minimal.  Yet, I'm at the VP level as Chief Medical Officer of a large hospital.  Your advice and counsel has been outstanding as I had minimal experience managing before I became an executive.  Many thanks for all that you do.  Physicians and lawyers are not trained in management so I am the one eyed man in the land of the blind.

MAMURP, Thanks for the


Thanks for the kind comments. Glad we can help!

Best Regards,

It is always so practical advice! Thanks!

 I don't think anybody is trained  in management.  At least i haven't met anyone yet. Engineers join right in with lawyers and physician with that respect.  I've been listening to manager tools for a while now. I don't know why, i probably should't, but i still get positively suprised by  how practical the advice given here is.