As human beings, we are instilled, very early on, with the concept of right and wrong. “Don’t do this”, “no, that’s wrong”, “this is the right answer”. And we carry that concept forward into everything we do. We forever are seeking the simplicity of that duality – do the right things, avoid the wrong ones. This approach, in general terms, can be very helpful for our well-being and success. It’s right to eat healthy. It’s wrong to spend all your money on lottery tickets. It’s right to take showers. It’s wrong to throw gasoline on a fire. And ethical rights and wrongs keep society working relatively harmoniously.
But when it comes to more complex issues, like, specifically, business problems, I believe we over-use the concept of right vs. wrong – by expecting to find the right answer when there are really only shades of gray. Aiming for the “right” solution to problems like these is not the “right” approach. Instead, my recommendation is to aim for good – and then build like hell towards great.
Why do I say this?
Using the binary “right” or “wrong” causes you to find fault with everything. If you’re seeking the surety of choosing what is “right”, then you naturally will be focused on what’s wrongwith ideas, first. Your mind will search for why ideas won’t work, where they fall down, what’s incomplete or errant about them – instead of focusing on what is good and beginning to build. You’ll be amazed at how many good ideas (and good team members) this mind-set will burn through. Because, while you’re busy looking only for the “right” answer, you’ll speed past lots of very good ones along the way.
And the fact is, everything has things that are wrong with it. There are no perfect ideas, plans, solutions. There are only good ones – that then need to be made real, built upon and “stratecuted” for the real world. Because, let’s not forget, that we’re still talking about a strategy, a plan, an idea – it’s just a hypothesis at this point.
You’ll naturally discount any ideas or answers you come up with quickly. If you are looking for the right answer, you’ll likely believe that it can only be found and developed after lots of wrong ones are purged from your mind. You will devalue anything you came up with quickly as too obvious, too hasty, too light-weight. But this is often far from the case. Many creative thinkers believe their first ideas are best. And coming up with a good idea fast gives you more time to build it and make it even better.
Sometimes it’s more important to do something than nothing. One thing about waiting around for the “right” answer to your problem – during that time, you are doing nothing. I have been on teams that spent enormous effort to over-confirm and over-perfect a plan or an idea through excessive testing, vetting and layered approvals to make sure it was right. But, as General Patton said,“A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week”. Your problem is almost surely addressed better by starting to attack it with a good idea and gaining momentum and learning in the real world. As I’ve written about before, great solutions generally take some time to develop and nurture in the real world.
The safety of “right” is a false one. Here’s another thing to consider – what is “right” in theory can end up “wrong” in real life. As I mentioned, our ideas and plans and solutions are hypothetical – until we make them real. Lots of things impact the in-market realization of these plans. This includes some things in your control, like the execution and real-world activation of your ideas, as well as even more things outside of your control, like the activities of your competitors, the European economy or the unseasonable weather. So, as sure you are of the right-ness of your plans, you can’t really be sure.
What do you guys think? Are there really “right” ideas? Am I “wrong”? Have I beaten this to death yet?
Great post Michael. And particularly agree that sometimes it is better to do so something than nothing.
Interesting post! The terms right and wrong are definitely relative. What inspired you to write this post?
This is especially true as new startups are practicing this as early as college (i.e. Steve Blank’s courses) while old, bloated companies continue to overthink.