Doing Things Right vs. Doing the Right Things

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In my last article, I talked about the difference between Tactical thinking and Strategic thinking. In a nutshell, Tactical thinking is “doing things right,” while Strategic thinking is “doing the right things.” Strategic thinking is typically leadership: creating the vision. Whereas Tactical thinking is management: implementing the vision. When it comes to strategic vs. tactical planning, it’s easy to fall into either/or thinking—that is, either strategic thinking is better, or tactical thinking is better. This is especially true when you realize which type of thinker you are. We tend to believe that our type of thinking must be superior. But regardless of whether you are a strategic or a tactical thinker, you must come to realize that both types are critical to success; and you must learn to appreciate your business partner and/or your employees’ way of thinking and value the contribution they can make towards accomplishing your goals. So when I use the term strategic vs. tactical thinking, it’s not to imply that they are at odds with one another; rather it’s to contrast the difference between the two, so you can begin to distinguish and appreciate those differences. It’s also critical to recognize when you are not applying both types of thinking to the situation. Difficulties arise when one or the other, rather than both, is used to tackle a problem. Strategic thinkers tend to analyze the situation but often fail to take action. “Paralysis by analysis” is their downfall. Tactical thinkers are all about “doing something,” but they often don’t think before springing into action; so oftentimes, their action is ineffective, and perhaps unnecessary. If only they’d taken the time to step back and analyze the situation beforehand. Think of strategic and tactical thinking like the strings of a violin. In order for the instrument to create beautiful music, each string must have tension applied to both ends. If tension is released from either side, then the music it was intended to create cannot be produced. The apparent tension between strategic and tactical thinking is seen in the statement, “Doing Things Right vs. Doing the Right Things.” Tactical thinkers tend to focus on “doing things right,” and strategic thinkers are concerned with “doing the right things.” But let’s consider that statement for just a moment. If you do something “right,” but it’s the wrong thing to do, your efforts will be futile. Conversely, if you do the “right thing,” but you do it wrong, you’ll also fail miserably.

“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before the defeat” – Sun Tzu
Let me give you a couple of examples.

Doing the Right Thing, but Doing it Wrong

When my partners and I began our web development business, one of the “things” we did to find clients was cold-calling. Today, I run a telemarketing department, so I know something about it. But eight years ago, I was completely ignorant on the topic. Without a script or much of plan, we opened the phone book and started calling. As you can imagine, we were less than successful. We landed two very small jobs (one of which we ended up refunding the money), so we decided that cold calling wasn’t the way to find clients in our market. It wasn’t until a few years later that I met some colleagues who were having great success with cold calling. One even told me that it was the primary way he gained new business. Our failure caused us to conclude that we were “doing the wrong thing,” when in reality, we were “doing the thing wrong.”

Doing the Wrong Thing, but Doing it Right

A few years later, I met a business woman whose product was coffee gift baskets. Previous to this, she’d been a freelance computer programmer and IT consultant. As most of you know, the primary way a person in that field gets business is through networking: belonging to groups such as chamber of commerce, establishing relationships with people that could become clients or who know others who could become clients. Much of this type of work is gained by “word of mouth.” Jackie knew this and was good at it. And since that was all she knew, she was using it for her coffee gift basket business. The problem was that, unlike computer programming, where she only needed maybe one or two new clients every few months to make a living, Jackie needed to sell several dozen baskets each week to make a profit. What Jackie needed was a website and a retail outlet to expose her product to the public. Networking meetings were getting her one or two sales, at best, a month. If Jackie had been a different type of person, she might have concluded that she was “doing the thing wrong” and tried harder—more networking meetings, talk to more people, and so on. Fortunately, she realized that, although she was “doing the thing right,” it was “the wrong thing” to do for her new business. So let’s get away from either/or thinking, and engage in both/and thinking: both strategic thinking and tactical thinking are critical for success.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Doing Things Right vs Doing the Right Things

What is the fundamental difference between doing things right and doing the right things?

The fundamental difference lies in the focus. Doing things right is about efficiency, it’s about following a process and making sure every step is executed correctly. On the other hand, doing the right things is about effectiveness, it’s about making sure you’re working on the right tasks that will lead you to your desired outcome or goal.

Why is it important to understand the difference between doing things right and doing the right things?

Understanding the difference is crucial because it can significantly impact your productivity and success. If you’re always focused on doing things right, you might end up spending too much time on tasks that don’t contribute much to your goals. Conversely, if you’re focused on doing the right things, you’re more likely to achieve your goals even if you make some mistakes along the way.

Can you give an example of doing things right versus doing the right things?

Sure, let’s consider a business scenario. A manager who focuses on doing things right might spend a lot of time perfecting a presentation. However, if that presentation is not crucial to the company’s goals, then the manager is not doing the right thing. Instead, they should be focusing on tasks that directly contribute to the company’s objectives.

How can I ensure that I’m doing the right things?

To ensure you’re doing the right things, you need to have a clear understanding of your goals and priorities. Once you know what’s important, you can align your tasks and activities accordingly. It’s also helpful to regularly review and adjust your priorities as needed.

Is it possible to do things right and also do the right things?

Yes, it’s possible and ideal to do things right and also do the right things. This means you’re not only efficient in your tasks but also effective in achieving your goals. However, if you have to choose, it’s often more important to do the right things than to do things right.

How does the concept of doing things right versus doing the right things apply to personal life?

In personal life, doing things right might mean following societal norms or expectations, while doing the right things means making decisions based on your personal values and goals. For example, choosing a career path that aligns with your passion and goals, even if it’s unconventional, would be doing the right thing.

What are some common mistakes people make when trying to do things right or do the right things?

Some common mistakes include focusing too much on perfection, not having clear goals, not prioritizing tasks effectively, and not reviewing or adjusting goals and strategies regularly.

How can I improve my ability to do the right things?

Improving your ability to do the right things involves setting clear goals, prioritizing tasks effectively, regularly reviewing your goals and strategies, and being willing to make adjustments as needed. It’s also important to stay focused and not get distracted by less important tasks.

What role does decision-making play in doing things right versus doing the right things?

Decision-making plays a crucial role. When you’re doing things right, you’re making decisions about how to execute tasks efficiently. When you’re doing the right things, you’re making decisions about which tasks to focus on to achieve your goals.

Can focusing too much on doing things right hinder progress?

Yes, focusing too much on doing things right can hinder progress if it leads to perfectionism or spending too much time on less important tasks. It’s important to balance efficiency with effectiveness and to focus on doing the right things that will lead to achieving your goals.

John TabitaJohn Tabita
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Former owner and partner of web firm Jenesis Technologies, John is currently Director of Digital Strategy at Haines Local Search, a company providing local search marketing solutions to SMBs, including print and Internet Yellow Pages, web design, and local SEO. When not working or spending time with his family, John offers great sales and marketing advice on his blog, Small Business Marketing Sucks. When not working or spending time with his family, John offers great sales and marketing advice on his blog, Small Business Marketing Sucks.

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