When the misguided leaders at Enron, Tyco and Worldcom committed fraud and marred their shareholders with huge losses, the Securities and Exchange Commission rightfully swooped in to prevent future cons.
The problem is that the corrective measure came in the form of legislation known as Sarbanes-Oxley, which became a stranglehold on business. It was a broad-based, sweeping regulation that undoubtedly was well-intentioned but ended up significantly hampering the competitiveness of U.S. businesses and contributed to the financial meltdown of 2008.
When your local Italian restaurant finds it is losing money due to its historically gigantic portion sizes, it does a 180-degree flip, ending up with thimble-size helpings that leave patrons hungry. Schools that generate low test scores in math and science may try to turn the tides by dumping every penny of their resources into this one problem area.
There are endless examples in every industry and facet of life. The central problem we face: The Overcorrect.
If something bad happens we naturally want to ensure it never happens again. Even as toddlers, we learn quickly not to touch the hot stove a second time. Yet we may fight so hard avoiding the original problem that we end up creating a new complication in its place. Just like the game of Whac-A-Mole, a new enemy pops up as quickly as an old one is silenced.
I’ve been guilty of this in my career. As I built ePrize — the largest interactive promotion agency in the world — I realized at one point that our quality had dropped significantly due to our loose systems. Instead of optimizing these practices, I instinctively flung the pendulum too far in the other direction by implementing draconian and rigid policies, checklists and procedures. Quality increased, but speed and nimbleness took a nosedive and left me with a whole new set of issues to solve.
Restraint and thoughtfulness naturally become the challenge as we conquer our most painful obstacles. While we learn from our mistakes and grow, we must be careful not to release such an exaggerated response as to create a brand new headache altogether.
The solution to one slow month of sales is not to hire 100 more salespeople. The solution to a chilly house is not to install three new furnaces and run them full blast. The solution to being too soft in interpersonal conflicts is not to become a cantankerous jerk.
Fight the urge to overreact and instead proceed with a measured response. You’ll end up whittling down your challenges instead of magnifying the count.
Correct your desire to overcorrect… correctly.