I find that I have to draw pictures when I am thinking – it seems to help.
One thing I have been thinking about this week is how to predict the outcome of an action; because I don’t want to do something that has a negative outcome that I did not anticipate.
I know that whatever I do will change the “system” and may have an ongoing effect that may be positive and negative; and once I have set the ball rolling even reversing my action may not change the course.
So the problem I have is this: although I can work out what I feel is the best thing to do now, I do not seem to be able to predict the knock-on effects of my actions. I know from experience that I may be the recipient of the future effect of my actions today. I will get feedback one way or the other.
So how do we work out what is the best thing to do now? How do we get good feedback?
We all know the phrase “you get what you pay for” and we all know from experience that higher quality goods and services cost more. So, it follows that if we improve the quality of our product or service then we are always going to have to charge our customers more for it. But is that always the case?
If we add extra value to the product then it is likely that it will cost us more to do that and we may have to pass that cost on; but improvement often comes from removing something that was preventing a higher quality output.
When we remove something our costs are likely to go down and this reduction in cost can be passed on to the customer. Unfortunately the idea that lower costs mean lower quality is also deeply engrained into our thinking – so if a supplier offers what appears to be higher quality at a lower price we get suspicious. There must be a catch or a trick.
So, to avoid disappointing your customers when you make an improvement by removing an impediment to quality – just increase the price a bit. That way your costs go down, the price goes up, the customers expectation is met and everyone is happy; your customers and especially your accountant! It can’t be that easy surely. There must be catch?
I like doodling on Post-It® Notes and playing with two-by-two tables and recently I came across one that triggered a bit of an “Eureka” moment.
The two dimensions were Action (Nothing-to-Something) and Outcome (Worse-to-Better). We are all familiar with the good feeling that comes from doing something and seeing things get better; and the not-so-good feeling of doing something and seeing things get worse! I discovered that this latter option is called the “Error of Commission” and is the one we fear most because we leave an audit trail of evidence that can be traced back to our action. It does not seem to matter that we did not intend the outcome to be worse.
However, the 2 x 2 table also suggests that there are two other combinations. How do we feel when we do nothing and things get better? What do we learn from that experience? And how do we feel when we do nothing and things get worse? This, I discovered, is called the “Error of Omission” and is an error that is more difficult to learn from because there is no audit trail of cause-and-effect evidence. It is also the error that generates the greatest sadness – a feeling of loss of what might have been.
Both the Error of Commission and the Error of Omission can lead to unintended negative consequences. It appears that our systems are better designed to manage the Errors of Commission. I wonder if we could learn to better protect ourselves from the Errors of Omission?
Welcome to the blog that is specifically focussed on the Science of Improvement – the growing body of knowledge about how to achieve improvement in any system or process both reliably and safely.