Acting Without Theory Often Results in Wasted Effort

When you act without theory you can find yourself beating your head against the wall, in ways similar to this woodpecker bangs its head against this sign.

This bird may have copied the pecking behavior without understanding the theory. Pecking steel won’t lead to it uncovering insects to eat. Alternatively, it may be pecking to make noise and attract a mate or tell other woodpeckers this territory is claimed. If mates and others acknowledge the metal pecking noises then the behavior may be rewarded (the noise is louder than pecking wood so it may even be an innovation with improved results), if not, the beating its bill against the sign is wasted effort.

If you don’t understand why you take action you will find yourself wasting effort. You must have a theory that you can test in order to test what is working, what changes actually lead to improvement and to learn. If this bird wants to find food it will discover this method isn’t effective.

I wrote about a similar example before: Experience Teaches Nothing Without Theory.

Related: We are Being Ruined by the Best Efforts of People Who are Doing the Wrong ThingEffort Without the Right Knowledge and Strategy is Often WastedThe Illusion of Knowledge

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One Response to Acting Without Theory Often Results in Wasted Effort

  1. Alex Bea says:

    We can break the theory into parts. The first is understanding the goal. Once we know what we want to achieve, we must ask what we’re doing to make it happen and determine if there’s already a system in place, or if we’re starting from scratch. Yes, it’s simple scientific testing. Determine a goal, set a baseline, then test against it.

    This feel theoretical when applied to work, as it’s already difficult for both managers and employees to take a step back and question whether or not they should continue one method or try something new. That said, there’s a piece of the scientific method that should be regularly applied in practice.

    Before taking action to accomplish a goal, we have to ask why we chose that objective in the first place. Having context on why we prioritized a specific goal gives us the full picture and means less wasted effort when taking action.

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