Added On: Sunday, November 04, 2007

Prepare yourself for human weaknes

Those who have unrealistic expectations of how the world operates are likely to be disappointed when their plans fail. This is a basic fact of life. Yet there is one area where many people seem to have unworkable hopes - their beliefs about what they can expect from their fellow humans.

We humans are amazing creatures. Just look at what we've achieved. Our ancestors were dropped naked in the dirt of this planet, and look around you to see what they've built out of that dirt. Yet we are all far from perfect. For every strength we have, we also have many weaknesses.

Most people have a strong lazy streak, for example. Other common weak traits are clumsiness, lack of knowledge, confusion, nervousness, selfishness, forgetfulness and anger. In most people, some of these characteristics are just part of their nature. To pretend otherwise is just wishful thinking.

A lot of people try to force others to behave in ways that are against their nature. They yell at people, nag them, write reminders for them, and insult them. Sometimes, these strategies work, but they take a lot of work and often have unintended consequences.

Much better is to prepare yourself for human weakness and work around it.

The classic example of this is the bullying boss. He sees that his staff are less than perfect, so he shouts at them. This may motivate them over the short term, but is also likely to lead to all sorts of passive aggressive behavior. Worse, he'll probably lose his best people.

Instead, he should create an environment that acknowledges and tries to minimize human weakness. Clear guidelines of what people's responsibilities are and what's expected of them should be made. Incentives should be introduced to encourage them to perform. Knowledge, patience and sharing should be widely available.

This type of approach is likely to create better results, as it works within people's natures, instead of pushing against them.

I saw another good example recently at a friend's house. She had a pane of stained glass made which she planned to put in one of her windows. Because she had trouble finding a suitable place to store it, she leaned it against a door that was rarely used.

Everyone who entered her house, she told "Don't open that door, there's a pane of glass leaning on the other side". She also put a note on the door, so everyone could see it.

Needless to say, within a few days, somebody opened the door and the pane broke, despite all her messages not to do so. She blamed the door-opener, but I believe she's probably more to blame. If you lean something against a door, it's inevitable that sooner or later somebody is going to open it. To pretend otherwise is just wishful thinking.

Many successful businesses use this theory.

McDonald's has a simple menu which is very similar the world over. They know people are easily confused, so they make the menu as standard and simple as they possibly can.

Google created a hugely complex search product, which uses all sorts of mathematical techniques and options to find web pages. How it all works would boggle the minds of most users, but Google doesn't make them even think about it. It provides a simple interface which anyone can learn to use in about one minute. Users require little knowledge and tend not to get confused.

Human weakness is a fact of life. We all know it's there, and what the most common examples of it are. If you make plans and use strategies that acknowledge this weakness, you are much more likely to be successful.

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