When we’re trying something new, it’s important to remember that it’s new to us. New to us doesn’t mean new to everyone and so it may behoove you to look around, ask a few questions, challenge some assumptions, and understand whether you may have access to an expert who can help.
It’s easy to forget that being new to something means we don’t know all of the nuance. We think about the thing at a high level and understand the basic components of it, but it’s not until we do a thing over and over again until we start to appreciate all the nooks and crannies.
Let’s take playing a board game for example. You can really only understand a game at a high level at first, usually just enough to be convinced to play. Maybe you’ve heard your friends talk about Settlers of Catan and that it’s “kind of like Monopoly but more complicated.”
Then when you sit down to play, your learning experience starts with friends describing the activities in the game. You have your resource cards, the resources are used to build roads and towns, you can trade your resources, and so on. But at this stage it’d be a mistake to assume that you understand the strategy of the game; you don’t have a real shot of developing a strategy that achieves a desired outcome. It’s possible you’ll win, but that would largely be luck.
The same is true when you’re trying something that’s outside of your direct area of expertise. You understand at a high level what you’re hoping the outcome will be, and you may understand some rules and activities. But if you’re not an expert in the thing, chances are you’re going to make mistakes and your strategy will not get you your desired result. When this happens, we often seek to start doing the thing over again with our same rudimentary understanding of how to do it. That’s a mistake as long as what we’re doing has been done before.
How to improve your outcome
Your job at this point is to figure out what problem you need to correct for, not to immediately start the process of correction. This is especially true if you’re still learning the game. If you’ve already been operating on assumptions and an over-simplified understanding of the strategy, there’s a great chance you can’t pinpoint where your strategy went wrong without the help of someone who knows better. You’re right back where you started.
A common error is to think you made mistakes because you moved too fast. While it is very possible you moved too fast (because you were overlooking nuance), it’d be worth questioning whether you were going in the right direction in the first place.
You can move at great speed building a car engine if you leave out a bunch of steps like screwing on all the bolts or attaching the carburetor, but if you do the same thing next time just slower, your engine still won’t run.
A better way forward
Your best bet isn’t to start making corrections based on the same assumptions that got you to where you are now because you’ll still be left with an engine that doesn’t work. Your best bet is to start back at the beginning and look for your actual mistake.
Here are steps to help diagnose your problem:
- Start by challenging the assumptions you made in the first place. Ask yourself your level of expertise or what you may still need to learn more about in order to improve your result.
- Look for someone who has done something similar or who has more expertise than you. Have them weigh-in on your idea and your approach. This could be as simple as asking around your organization or tapping your network.
- Listen to the team members who worked on the last project. Ask them how it went, and weigh their perspectives. You also need to decide if you have the right people in the room. It’s best to do this in individual conversations to avoid groupthink.
- Get clear on your expectations. What is your desired outcome? Is it clear enough? Is it too ambitious? Not ambitious enough? The better you can articulate your vision, the more people can get behind it.
Once you’ve laid out the moving pieces, considered new perspectives, and have the right people in the room, communicate your desired outcome to the group. Only after you do the work of understanding the problem will you be able to course correct.
The worst part about this process is that it feels slow and cumbersome. The best part? You won’t be moving fast in the wrong direction anymore.