Optimize, optimize, optimize. The creed of the day. Search engine optimization. Email marketing optimization. Social media optimization. With all this optimization, you’d think that organizations would be sales and marketing machines, banging out the profits faster than ever.

Strangely, most of the folks promoting their optimization services barely have two nickels to rub together. The companies who are unlucky enough to hire these folks end up out a lot of money and become bitter, disenchanted with the idea of optimizing anything.

Why does most optimization fail so hard?

The final rush hourThink about it this way. Let’s say you want to do the most basic optimization possible – you want to optimize your commute home. You want to shave a minute or a mile off that daily drive, that way you’ve always done it.

Now let’s say that you only know the way you’ve already been going for the last day/week/month/year/life. How successful will your optimization be?

Exactly. You will achieve nothing, no significant gains at all.

So how would you optimize that commute? Before you can find the best route home, you have to know more than one route. Explore. Learn. Listen. Drive on all the back roads and side roads in and around your commute. Talk  to other people who drive that route or who live in the area, gas station attendants, waiters and waitresses. Learn everything there is to learn about all of the ways between your house and your office, and then test them. One day you take a southern road. One day you take the light before your usual light. Run all the variations that you practically run, learn, explore, and get to know all the places between home and the office.

The time it takes you to learn and explore is absolutely vital. There’s no substitute for that research. There’s no pre-drawn road map that will tell you in perfect, precise details how to get from your house to your office in exactly the right way. There’s no mentor you can seek who will tell you exactly how to get to your house from your office – though there are plenty of fellow travelers who can share tips about how they get home. In the end, only exploring and learning all the routes available will let you “optimize” and choose the best way home.

Now expand this analogy to everything you’re trying to do in your business. How much time, energy, and resources are you putting into research and exploration? How many questions are you asking each week, the equivalent of taking a different turn, knowing that a huge number of ideas will be dead ends? How often do you listen carefully to customers, prospects, and other fellow travelers to hear what they’re finding in their own exploration?

Most important: how much are you spending on “optimization” that’s ultimately going to be fruitless because you don’t know any different ways or worse, because your corporate culture is mired in “that’s the way we’ve always done it”?

Explore first. Optimize only after you’ve learned new ways to get home, or you’ll only repeat the mistakes of the past.


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