Don’t do a Dory

Photo of blue tang fish

Is this your natural approach to a problem?

“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again,” is proverb many of us are brought up with. Try harder, try harder. That’s what we get at school every time we get poor results in a Maths test or an English test. Just try harder.
So, we do. We keep on doing the same things, in more and more detail, and applying more and more expertise in the hope it will bring us that change. We believe, like Dory in “Finding Nemo” that if we just keep swimming we will reach our goal”. And up to a certain point, it can work. But sometimes we find it doesn’t. We try and we try and we try, but things don’t improve. We get disheartened and start to think we’re rubbish at what we do.

What if it doesn’t work?

So are we approaching this the right way? Maybe what we need is not to continue to do things harder, but do things differently. Einstein supposedly said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different answer.” The first time I came across this idea it was a revelation to me because I’d always believed that success followed effort. At school, you’re taught just one way to do something; you follow the process, and the right answer comes out at the end. Just as night follows day.
Effort is important but I believe effort should be focused towards the goal you want, not the method you use to get there. As Mark Twain said, “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got.” When you have a problem to solve you don’t want what you’ve always got.
There is rarely, if ever, one right way to solve a problem. A friend observed to me, recently, “You know, Liz. The difference between you and me is that when we’re looking at problems, I go too far inside and I cogitate and I think and I think, and I try and find the right solution for the problem.You just get on and do something, anything, that changes it around.”
Incremental improvements have their place. And going in and throwing everything in the air as soon as you hit a problem is not the most efficient way to start. But you have to recognise when you’ve reached the limits of what you can achieve with just refining or repeating what you’re doing. There comes a point when you need to take a step back and think, “Is it possible to do this differently?”

Doing something different is, er, different!

Remember though that some people are very, very tied to their process. And doing something differently scares them. You will hear phrases like “But we’ve always done it this way.” I remind them that different is not a synonym for wrong. There’s nothing dreadful with different. For anything you’re trying to do or any what you’re trying to achieve, there can be myriad ways to success.
The next time you are struggling with a problem that won’t resolve itself however hard you try, stop. Think how you can approach it differently rather than how you can apply more effort and see if that helps. I have learnt that sometimes what you need to do is just perturb the system a little. Put in a bit of agitation and a bit of irritation, and see where that gets you.

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