Many workplaces are festooned with "slogan posters," and sometimes they do have a positive effect. But sometimes they're unhelpful — even destructive. One slogan that can be especially inappropriate in problem-solving organizations is "Do It Right the First Time." It has an equally inappropriate cousin: "If you don't have time to do it right, how will you get time to do it again?"
These slogans might make some sense in the operational context, where tasks are very repeatable. But problem-solving tasks are different. Problem solving, which occurs most often in the project context, entails doing something new here, in our organization, if not the world.
Here are three advantages of organizational cultures that grant permission to experiment — to "do it wrong" the first time.
- Accelerated progress
- We often learn more by doing it wrong than by doing right. A series of well-designed experiments that focus on specific learning goals can usually advance the project faster than consistently trying to implement deliverable solutions.
- Normalized risk taking
- When we require that every effort produce deliverable results, we create a culture that's averse to taking the kind of risks that are often necessary to complete projects successfully.
- Cost savings
- When we can accept that a particular implementation isn't "final," and won't ever be, we can take steps to limit our investment in that implementation. We can work on answering only the question at hand.
Even if We often learn more
by doing it wrong
than by doing rightyou decide that experimental approaches are sometimes justified, there are three traps awaiting many organizations.
- Confusion between operations and projects
- Leaders and managers accustomed to operationally oriented organizations often see exploratory failures as worthless indulgences, because they don't directly produce the desired result. Many with strictly operational experience must learn new ways when they manage problem-solving organizations.
- Hidden problem-solving organizations
- Problem-solving organizations can be embedded within operationally oriented organizations. For instance, most IT organizations are responsible for information and computation operations. Managing them requires an operational orientation. But these same IT organizations also contain groups that develop new products and first-of-kind services. Managing these efforts requires a more experimental approach. And this is a problem for slogan posters, because everyone sees them, and some slogans aren't right for everybody.
- Cultural inertia
- Some organizations have a historically operational orientation, but now perform most of their work in the project context. In some cases, the old culture hasn't yet adapted to the new work.
Doing it right by first doing it wrong can give you personal advantages, too. A very small example: how much better would our work lives be if we gave ourselves permission to keep revising the email messages we write until we feel good about them? You can start today. Top Next Issue
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 13: Contrary Indicators of Psychological Safety: I
- To take the risks that learning and practicing new ways require, we all need a sense that trial-and-error approaches are safe. Organizations seeking to improve processes would do well to begin by assessing their level of psychological safety. Available here and by RSS on December 13.
- And on December 20: Contrary Indicators of Psychological Safety: II
- When we begin using new tools or processes, we make mistakes. Practice is the cure, but practice can be scary if the grace period for early mistakes is too short. For teams adopting new methods, psychological safety is a fundamental component of success. Available here and by RSS on December 20.
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