When Doing Things Right Is Actually Wrong

Most of the clients we work with have a perfectionist streak.

So do I, for that matter.

It’s a burning desire, deep down, to do things “right”. To find optimizations and create maximum efficiency. To discover best practices and follow them ruthlessly.

And not just for ourselves, but for those around us: our teams, our clients, our colleagues.

The better you do things, the more amazing the results you’ll get …



… Maybe Not

Several months ago, we were debriefing with a client.

We’d been working together to create a corporate training workshop based on her area of expertise.

She came to us because she wanted this workshop to be as engaging as possible; lots of activities and interaction, so that the participants would learn as much as possible.

That is, after all, what the best practices of learning tell us to do:

Follow the 80/20 rule: get participants doing hands-on work, and cut the amount of content to a minimum.

After the first session, though, she started to hear murmurings of discontent.

Despite doing everything by the book, her participants weren’t satisfied.

They felt like they weren’t getting full value for their time spent; weren’t learning as much as they’d hoped.

According to what the research tells us, of course, they were actually learning more than they would have in a more content-driven course.

What would you do?

Or What About In This Case?

Lest you think this is a unique situation, let me tell you about one of my favorite studies.

In this study, students were given the opportunity to conduct an experiment on a virtual brain before learning how the brain worked.

What the study found is that this was highly effective; students learned more through this approach than they did with traditional book learning.

But the students didn’t feel that way.

In the paper, one of the participants was quoted as saying:

“I would have been better able to take full advantage of the [virtual brain] if I had read the text beforehand.”

The evidence all indicated that he was wrong.

He actually learned better with the approach he was given.

But he didn’t feel like he had.

Knowing this, what would you do?

Would you give the student what he thought would help him — increasing his satisfaction, even though it would decrease his results?

Living in the Gray Zone

This isn’t a simple question with a straight black-and-white answer.

And it’s not just about the level of engagement in your course.

Research shows that you should talk fast in videos, and go for low-end production value.

That you shouldn’t use PowerPoint.

That the sweet spot is bite-sized content, especially if it can be consumed in 5 minutes or less.

But at the end of the day, if your fast-talking videos leave customers frustrated; if buyers expect beautiful production values; if customers believe that they need 30 minutes of content to get their money’s worth …

Then being “right” isn’t worth very much.

Put it this way:

The point of a learning journey is to get people from A to B.

But if you can’t even get them to A, you’ll never get them to B — no matter how perfect your methods are.

The End Result Is More Than Just a Goal

At the end of the day, you want to get people to their desired outcomes as effectively and efficiently as possible.

But there’s more than one way to achieve an outcome.

Sometimes, that means sticking by the book and doing things “right”.

Other times, taking the “not-best” path will create some interesting results in-and-of itself — the journey can be just as illuminating, even if it’s more circuitous.

That’s what my client and I came to, in that debrief session.

Even though it wasn’t the “best practice”, we knew that our first priority was getting the buy-in of our participants.

Without that, the rest of the training was useless.

So we added more content in. Reduced the amount of engagement, and cut the activities.

And at the end of the day, her clients were happier. And — we both agree — in the end, they got more out of it because they bought into the process.

What Are YOU Trying to Achieve?

The key, of course, is to determine what you really are trying to achieve.

  • Is the goal just to get to the end point, no matter how you get there?
  • Is it to do it quickly and efficiently so your customers can get the result faster?
  • Is it to make the buying decision easier so you make more sales?
  • Is it a combination thereof?

When we focus more on the why, the how becomes clearer.

In some cases, it may be best to follow “best practices”. In other cases, it may just be a waste of time and effort.

Knowing (and foreseeing) the difference is the challenge — and the key to being able to make forward progress.