The cumulative effect of incremental change is much more significant than most people give it credit for.
Increasing or increased in quantity, degree, or force by successive additions.
Cumulative is the important word here. We are primed to think in short-term sequences about cause and effect, where effect is the immediate result, or any result we can grab hold of, and cause is the last thing we did before we went looking for an effect. This leads to a regrettable tendency to tie things together too tightly, while simultaneously overlooking evidence of long term impact. The new cause is judged on whether it did, or didn’t, lead to an immediate change in leads generated or positive mentions. While the legacy impact of products and services in the channel, previous messaging frameworks and marketing campaigns is effectively discounted. We have a tendency to view the world as simple. It makes sense to us all that if you change the recipe; you change the result. It is harder for us to understand how the ingredients themselves interplay. We know that too much salt will ruin a meal, but think only in binary terms – adding salt or not.
Our short-term focus is a bigger problem, both as individuals and as organisations. We all know that results derive from doing the right thing consistently and adapting to changing circumstances. But we act as though there are magic bullets available in every corner shop. We know short cuts are never worth it and yet, every time someone puts up a signpost, with even modest plausibility, saying ‘short cut this way’ – we cannot resist. Marketing plan not working? Someone has a better one, just kick out the old and have a beauty parade to pick a new one. Online experience failing to deliver? What you need is a different technology, let’s have a vendor review. NPS in the gutter? We should change our customer call centre partner.
The hard-learned lessons we take as individuals, that the route to success is discipline, consistency, adaption and repetition are thrown away by businesses in the face of missed targets. Impose the discipline of measuring, auditing and analysing to identify what isn’t working now, be consistent across your communications, give it time to deliver meaningful data, then adapt what you have to see what you can improve. Then measure, audit, and analyse again.
Rather than looking for a short cut, make incremental changes to what you already have. Base these changes on solid evidence, prove why it works or uncover why it doesn’t. Do the hard work, maintain discipline and reap the rewards. Beware of the short cuts, they will give you something new, but without teaching you anything. If it works you won’t know why and if it doesn’t you won’t know why. You’ll be left looking for the next short cut salesperson. Don’t rip it up and start again.
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