Learning from a Light Switch - Bark Communications

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  • Oct18Thu

    Learning from a Light Switch

    October 18, 2012

    Posted by Andrew VanderPloeg

    Let me paint a word picture for you.

    In our office building, there is a back hallway that ends with some loading doors that we use for large shipments or for hauling our BBQ outside for a team lunch in the summer. The left side of the hallway is lined with bookshelves that hold office supplies, resources and all of our samples from past work and the right side is where our restrooms are.

    Light Switch

    And in that back-right corner, just to the left of the men's washroom door, is a light switch. That switch controls the light circuit for all of the main hallways in the building, and it doesn't work. I mean, technically, it works just fine - you flip the switch and the lights go on and if you flip it back the lights shut off.

    But functionally, it doesn't work well at all because any time we have visitors into our office building, inevitably, if they are here long enough and are of the male gender, they'll make a trip down the back hall and as they do, they'll hit that switch as they walk into the restroom thinking that it's the light switch for it. Quickly, they realize that it isn't the restroom switch and the lights come right back on.

    But it's that first impulse, the intuition to flip that switch that makes the switch dysfunctional.

    So why is it there then? Well, for good reason actually. If you were to enter the building through the back loading doors, you might be doing so when no one else was around and would therefore, need to turn on the lights to see where you were going. So the functional need for a light switch is there. But that reality clashes with the reality of wisely placing your restrooms in the back corner of the building and all of a sudden, two good ideas have combined to create an issue.

    Such is the reality of trying to plan and strategize your communications. Attempting to solve multiple problems often results in competing solutions. The communications problems you face are becoming ever more complex as more mediums are introduced and the complexity of those mediums deepens.

    So it follows that unforeseen challenges arise. Challenges like a light switch that seem like such a simple thing to get right, but somehow ends up being really dysfunctional for first timers.

    The overarching point is that after performing your due diligence in effective planning, successful communications still require you to put your project out there and while it is out there, learn about how it is or isn't working. Even more importantly, it requires you to be willing to make a change to it if something isn't working.

    Having that attitude and understanding at the outset of your project will set you up to meet and exceed expectations, rather than to be shocked at the fact that ongoing investment is necessary.

    Protect yourself from unrealistic expectations. Plan for success. Then, learn and revise to achieve that success.