Are You Learning The Wrong Lesson?

That Time I Got Caught Shoplifting

I had a tiny allowance growing up. It's not like I needed the money for anything. I'm talking about pre-driving age. So the money was just for fun stuff and snacks. But I felt like it wasn't enough.

The first time I stole something, I walked into a supermarket and walked out with a can of soda that I hadn't paid for. I felt like I had just discovered a new super power.

That one success gave me all the confidence I needed to attempt to steal a pair of 9 volt batteries while my mom was in the store with me. I felt like my moves were smooth. I pulled it off the rack, looked at it and started walking with it in my hands back towards where my mom and her cart were.

But in turning the corner, I pocketed the batteries.

And that's when the security guard asked me, from behind, what I had put in my pocket. I replied, “I'm taking these batteries to my mom,” and pulled them out of my pocket as if I had done nothing wrong.

He walked me back to my mom, watched me put them in the cart, and walked away. I'm pretty sure she didn't know. And I've never talked about it again. It was the last time I ever tried to shoplift.

But imagine if the lesson I came away with was this – “when shoplifting, don't put bulky items in your front jeans pocket.”

You'd think I was crazy, right?

Learning the Wrong Lesson

I know that's a crazy idea – to think I'd walk away from that childhood experience with such a wrong-headed notion. But how often do we do the same thing in our business?

Example One – Facebook Ads

I once wrote an eBook about the top trends in eCommerce for the upcoming year. I sent it to folks who were going to use it for a lead magnet. This was in November. That's a good time to talk about upcoming trends for the next year.

They didn't use it as a lead magnet for 6 more months. After two months of a failed campaign, they came back and said, “Facebook ads just don't work for us.”

You can see what happened, right?

No one wants to know about the upcoming trends of the following year when we're 6-8 months into that year already, right?

It had nothing to do with Facebook Ads.

It's an example what I've told you about before, “great answer, wrong question.”

Example Two – Outbound Demand Generation

Another time I watched an organization send out an email to cold leads trying to drum up some demand gen. There's nothing wrong with this kind of thing – people do it all the time.

But in this case, the email copy was insulting. It basically told people their websites were ridiculously slow. The offer was an agency offering to help them speed it up. But the email basically said, “your baby is ugly.”

The takeaway?

None of those leads were any good. Email marketing doesn't work.

Now, hold up. Of course email marketing works. But sending out insulting emails is never going to work. That's the lesson that should have been learned.

Being Careful with the Takeaway

It's easy to get caught learning the wrong lesson. We look back, in our rearview mirror, and it's almost like we can decide that the takeaway is anything we want.

To have proper perspective requires a bit of work so that we don't tell ourselves the wrong narrative.

So here are three things you can do to make sure you're not learning the wrong lesson from your upcoming experiments.

Bring a diverse group of people together

Let's face it, if you only gather the people involved, it's going to be hard not to see everyone get defensive or accusatory. It's also hard to get perspectives on what could have been issues if there's not enough experience to catch it from those involved. Bringing multiple people together will help you have a conversation that discovers insights that you might not otherwise.

Ask what could be improved instead of what went wrong

The fastest way to get people learning the wrong lesson is to drive people towards defensiveness and watch them shut down. Everyone will find some way to move on, ignore this potential learning situation, and nothing will be improved. So asking about improvements is a stronger way to learn the right lesson than to ask what went wrong.

Ask about all the challenges instead of landing on a single culprit

The last thing that is easy to have happen is to let some issue become the scapegoat of the entire dynamic. And when you pick a single culprit (person, process or “miscommunication”), you really miss the opportunity to learn the right lesson and grow.

Here's more on how to run a lessons learned meeting.

Mistakes Happen

Whether you're a kid trying to get a soda or batteries, or an agency owner running large projects, or a product owner launching a new version of your software – mistakes are going to happen.

They might be costly. And they'll hurt.

But the most costly mistake is the one where you walk away learning the wrong lesson. It means you'll likely make the mistake many more times.

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