Why Doing The Wrong Thing Better Is Not A Good Plan


Tuesday, 8.38pm

Sheffield, U.K.

The more efficient you are at doing the wrong thing, the wronger you become. It is much better to do the right thing wronger than the wrong thing righter. If you do the right thing wrong and correct it, you get better. – Russell L. Ackoff

A few weeks back I wrote a paper on getting started with visual thinking, reflecting on methods I use and the way in which they help in different situations.

Part of the reason I thought it was worth doing was because of the plethora of visual thinking methods out there – methods that I quite liked when I first came across them.

Take Dan Roam’s “Back of the napkin”, for example.

It makes a lot of sense – use pictures to help people understand your point quickly.

At the end of the book, however, Roam introduces a complicated way of picking and choosing what kind of pictures to use to tell a story – and in doing so I think he loses sight of the point that we’re trying to make it easy for someone to understand what you’re trying to say.

And then you have modern visual thinking or visual facilitation methods.

I found Mike Rhode’s sketchnotes principle very useful when taking notes in class – I could condense three hours worth of points into a single sheet of A4.

That perhaps tells you more about the content of the class than about my note taking skills…

A sketchnote is, however, a work of art – and it’s clearest to the person who took the note.

After all, if you’ve made those marks you probably remember what the points were because your brain is relying on additional data points – your physical movements, the spacial positions of content and the bits you added to highlight important things and make them more memorable.

A sketchnote on a big board becomes a visual facilitation exercise – which looks amazing when done but… what use is it?

Most of the time it’s a product, an output from a session that then sits there.

In some cases, it’s framed as a memory of the event, but I’m not sure how often it flows into the next step – where it informs some kind of action – or if there is even a next step at all.

This may seem a little all over the place – after all this blog is based on the idea that drawing things makes it easier to understand and talk to others about something that might be complex or difficult to “get” in the normal way.

But I think that often the focus of activity shifts from helping you to understand to creating something that is visually appealing – something that is pretty and makes you go wow.

And that is a problem.

Websites do this – the useful textual content on most websites can probably be put on two sides of an index card.

The rest of it is visual waffle, elements that are pretty but add no real informational content.

What seems to happen is that an industry quickly develops around any new idea.

It happened with websites, it’s happening with visual representations of ideas and events, and it happens with everything from Agile to Lean to the Business Model Canvas.

The central idea is often simple and useful.

But you can’t profitably sell simple and useful – so you have to make it complex and proprietary to make money.

Which is why something like Bikablo – which is a visual library of sorts that helps you create better pictures – leaves me with an ambivalent feeling.

On the one hand, it looks so good.

On the other, so what?

Maybe I’m just jealous because I can’t do it yet – you’ll see examples of that style soon as I start having a go – and then I’ll stop complaining.

The point I’m trying to make is this.

You need to know what problem you’re solving.

If you want to get better at communicating complex ideas or help a group of people work through their situation and come up with a way to improve things then you’ll need some basic skills in visual facilitation – but you don’t need to be a full-blown artist.

In fact, if you’re too slow getting everything perfect you’ll probably focus on the picture and not on the situation – and create a very pretty depiction of the wrong problem.

If you’re looking for gold that’s hanging from a pole you won’t improve your chances by throwing away your spade and getting a digger instead.

You’ll dig more ground more effectively and efficiently and be amazingly productive.

Without a result.

And what matters is the result – everything else is simply what you do on the way.

But as the saying goes you sell the sizzle, not the steak.

But… what do you end up eating?

And is it what you wanted?

And of course, if you do the right thing righter – solve the right problem and make it look amazing – then you’re untouchable.


Karthik Suresh

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