Doing the wrong thing correctly

When we're creating something new, we have a lot on our minds. It can be as small as a new web page or as comprehensive as launching a new start-up. Our minds naturally fixate on solving the immediate problems. There's a lot to consider to avoid making mistakes, looking bad and failing to perform as promised. We become obsessed with "doing the thing right" while hoping we've chosen to "do the right thing" with the particular new thing we're creating. 

Most inventors fall into a pitfall of doing the wrong thing correctly. They end up serving themselves accurately instead of serving the customers functionally. They rely on the features and specs, not the use cases and other purposes the thing can enhance. The invention becomes a good idea in itself that took lots of work to make it right. It becomes "the inventor's baby" that is adored, clung to and admired without question. The new thing comes across to others as too new to accept, too strange to comprehend, too difficult to use or too complicated to think through how to apply it.

We get seduced by this pitfall, in part, due to the way our minds function. When we're being productive, we take others for granted. We close our minds to distractions and focus on the task at hand. We cannot relate to others, consider their feelings, empathize with their situations or tune into their outlooks. We function in an "I - it" mode of  dehumanizing and de-contextualizing others. This enables us to get the job done and solve the obvious problems. But we lose sight of making sense to others from their own frames of reference. Our invention shows up in their worlds as nothing they'd want to buy, use or look into further.

Entrepreneurs utilize several heuristics to successfully avoid this pitfall. Here's a few of them:
  • Don't start with an idea, start with a user's pain, problematic situation or frustrated attempts to make progress.
  • Don't make an invention, make a difference in the lives of other people who don't know they need an invention.
  • Don't deliver something for customers to buy, serve their ability to get more out of what they buy.
  • Don't dwell on what is getting bought, focus on what good it does for those who do the buying.
When we get trapped by this pitfall, the value of our inventions are extrinsic. It's in the item and presumed to be the same for everyone who buys it. When we steer clear of this pitfall, the value is intrinsic. It's in the eye of the beholders, in the strength of the rapport with their outlooks and in the trust established with them. We practice an "I - thou" mode of humanizing and contextualizing others. We get where others are coming from and meet them there. We discover ways to give them what they are looking for. We ease their pain, solve some of their problems and facilitate their own process of making progress. We appear to be on their side or in their corner. They feel understood by where we appear to be coming from. The invention now looks very useful, valuable and alluring to their outlooks. We've done the right thing correctly.


  1. Kia ora e Tom. Kia hari te tau hou!

    Perhaps the most significant communications invention of the 19th century was the telephone, for it continued to transform as a device as well as transforming the way we communicate, during the 20th century. All these aspects are still evolving in the 21st century.

    Alexander Graham Bell did many things correctly when he launched his version of the invention. I say his version. He was successful, whereas many others before him had attempted to launch their similar inventions though unsuccessfully.

    Bell is a splendid example of an inventor who did the things right that you outline in this post.

    Catchya later.

  2. Thanks for the example, Ken! Perhaps every technological breakthrough that both scaled and endured like the telephone, has steered clear of this pitfall superbly.