Bill Crawford's Blog

The Right Thing Wrong or The Wrong Thing Right

I was reading an obituary yesterday. Legendary management theorist Russell Ackoff passed away a couple of weeks ago. (His obituary didn’t make the Wall Street Journal until yesterday.)

Dr. Ackoff was famous for asking the question that I posed above, asking about the “right thing wrong” or the “wrong thing right.”

His answer – “All of our problems arise out of doing the wrong things righter. The more efficient you are at the 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.”

Go back and read that again – it’s very practical and very powerful!

To bring this back a bit into our world…..

I was chatting with a retailer the other day, specifically the Vice President of Marketing at one of the premier chains in our industry. We are work with them on some custom-content to help his stores connect with consumers. We are making more of an emphasis and focus on delivering this content on-line as there is so much consumer movement away from print.

He apologized to me that his stores were so “behind” in their on-line execution. My reply was that they did the right thing – focused on building great stores, stores that have customers that are enthusiastically loyal and that every vendor lines up to support. Had they focused first – or only – on building a web presence, without the solid retail stores, where would they be today? (Possibly a distant memory!) By focusing on building great stores, having great staffs, offering a great product selection, having competitive pricing, and so forth, they are now able to focus on other aspects of their business.

Right about the time as this conversation, I had a restaurant owner from my home town as a guest speaker in an Entrepreneurship class. He described the grades that he would give his restaurant as a B – in the front of the house (referring to his menu, food quality, service, ambiance, etc.) and as a C – in the back of the house (referring to his cost control and profitability). For the record, I give him a much higher front of the house grade, but as he is in the constant striving for improvement and perfection, I see why he graded things as he did.

My comment was that in a marketplace as competitive and crowded as the restaurant market, he probably had it about right. If he focused only on costs and profit – and not on ambiance, customer service, great food, etc., he probably would not be open today.

Of course, you have to focus on cost control and keep an eye on cash flow and profits – but if you do that at the expense of sales building – customer care and satisfaction – you will manage yourself into obscurity.

If you do right things wrongly, you can improve! If you do wrong things rightly, you might just go away

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