Monday, October 27, 2014

If you're serious about getting it right . . .

To consistently achieve excellent results, test your work or process in a way as completely different from the original thinking as possible – ideally with no two points in common other than the beginning and the outcome.

When we review our work with no change, we often repeat our mistakes – no matter how careful we are. Our minds are tricky that way.

Some examples of successful (and not-so-successful) processes:

Cross-check. Years ago, bookkeepers learned to check the accuracy of spreadsheets by cross-footing. (Yes, there were spreadsheets before VisiCalc. We used an archaic technology called pencil and paper.) First, we added all the numbers in each column, then each row. Having done this, we added the column totals and finally the row totals. Tedious, yes. But if both sums agreed, it was very likely that the individual row and column totals were also correct.

Personal computers add and subtract faster and more accurately then we ever could. But they offer new ways to screw up. A good test in the above example is to highlight the big rectangular area with all the entries. The total of these selected cells will be displayed somewhere at the bottom of the window. Does it agree with the total on the spreadsheet? Be sure to also check the sum of row and column totals the same way.

A favorite error of mine is to enter a number into a cell that has a formula. It starts out OK, but the number never updates.

Measure twice, cut once. If you're measuring a room, measure each door and wall segment, then measure the total and compare the results. If you measured from the south wall the first time, start at the north wall the second. Do you reach the same conclusion? If so, it's "OK to cut."

Another dumb Lyle mistake: Measure a complicated piece . . . measure it again . . . cut it carefully . . . discover I have a perfect mirror image of what I need.

Listen to your instincts. One often overlooked test is our "gut" reaction. The subconscious is a powerful computer. It uses everything we've ever learned. In fact, many (including me) believe that we are connected beyond our own personal experience – in ways that we can't even imagine. If a conclusion doesn't feel right, it's a good bet that it isn't.

DIRTFT.  Do It Right The First Time. You may have noticed that some people achieve accurate results quickly – even though they appear to be slow. But they only do it once. Not a race to the finish followed by troubleshooting and a do-over to get it right – maybe more than once.

Slowing down to get it done faster has a surprising outcome. Not only do we achieve the desired results faster at the get-go, but with a little practice we get faster. Just remember the priority: Right is most important, fast will follow.


Marie and I have very different approaches to math. She's highly creative in her approach. As a mathematician I'm baffled by her process but her results are uncannily accurate. If we agree, it's almost certain that the result is on target. If we disagree . . . well, let's not go there.



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