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Doing the wrong thing righter
"The more efficient you are at doing the wrong thing, the wronger you become." – Russell Ackoff
is accuracy amidst the perpetual
scattering that unspools the world.
Ada Limón, from “It’s the Season I Often Mistake”
Sometimes we focus so much on doing things right that we ignore the possibility we’re doing the wrong things. We get better and better at a task or tactic while also getting farther and farther from the outcomes we want. As Russell Ackoff warns us:
All of our social problems arise out of doing the wrong thing righter. 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!
(Wall Street Journal, 11/11/2009)
There’s a delicate dance between striving for efficiency (“conducting activities with minimal waste,” as Ichak Adizes defines it) and striving for effectiveness (“obtaining results which somebody needs”). Either goal, on its own, can lead you and your team into deadly or dreadful terrain. Each requires the tension and attention of the other to different degrees in different domains. But that tension can be difficult to tolerate.
So, how do you navigate the interplay of efficiency (doing things right) and effectiveness (doing the right things)?
Humility is one productive stance. If you and your team are doubling down on “doing things right,” instead actively look for evidence that you’re doing the wrong thing. Are there other paths of action that hold more potential? Are there key indicators of progress that seem stubbornly distant over time?
Curiosity and courage are also essential. Implementing small, “safe-to-fail” experiments that seem right but feel awkward can open new doors of discovery.
Finally, thinking and working in diverse teams helps you bring multiple lenses to complex work. A team that gathers different capabilities, personalities, and concern structures – and the ability to collaborate across those differences – has a much greater chance of finding and maintaining balance.
Zora Neale Hurston described research as “formalized curiosity,” as “poking and prying with a purpose.” As you work toward better outcomes, remember that action can be a form of research, and that efficiency and effectiveness are partners rather than polar opposites in that effort.
Humility, curiosity, courage, and diverse collaboration can keep you in the sweet spot, while avoiding the dangerous practice of doing the wrong thing righter.
From the ArtsManaged Field Guide
Function of the Week: Governance
Governance involves structuring, sustaining, and overseeing the organization's purposes, resources, and goals (often through boards or trustees).
Framework of the Week: Critical Response Process
Choreographer Liz Lerman along with John Borstel developed a thoughtful, step-by-step process to foster productive discussion about creative works in progress. The process avoids the sandtraps common to unstructured critique, and empowers the artist to shape the type and tone of feedback that serves them in their process.