As I was walking in Tel-Aviv the other day, I saw this amazing example of dealing with reality. This is probably the main boulevard of Tel-Aviv (Rothschild Blvd.). It is wide and has a lot of walking and biking space on it. It also has many crosswalks for people to cross the road safely.
However, as it happens in Tel-Aviv, people cross the road wherever they want, whether or not a crosswalk is available.
I was looking to do the same thing (Shh… don’t tell anyone!) when I realized that someone in Tel-Aviv municipality actually thought of it in advance. Despite the fact that there was no crosswalk on its other side, there was a paved path from the boulevard itself and into the road.
Looking at it as is, it looks weird. It is a path into the middle of the road! But when you realize that people will be crossing there anyway — whether you like it or not — it is probably better to have them do it in a dedicated place. Whether they wanted to protect the grass, or simply to somehow still control where people are crossing — that I don’t know. But they knew their audience for sure.
So what do you need to do in order to deal with reality, even if it surprises you?
Step #1: make yourself aware
Keep a close eye on reality. It could be done in many ways — for example by measuring the KPIs you decided on in advance, running surveys, or simply by listening carefully to what your customers say (and don’t say) when they talk to you.
Whichever method works for you, make it your goal to stay rooted in reality.
Step #2: acknowledge it even if it’s not what you expected
Many times we refuse to see what is happening (even if the facts are clear) because we expected something else. Unfortunately, that in and of itself doesn’t change anything. The first step in changing a reality that you don’t like is acknowledging it.
Calling out that something isn’t working as expected is never easy, especially if it was you who got us there. But it is a must if you want to get things to work. For me, it requires alienating myself from the product. If I look at it through the eyes of the product leader who created this product, I am too involved to look at it objectively. When I ask myself: “if you hired someone else to tell you what they see here, what would they say?” — that’s when I’m able to be completely honest and accept the facts as they are.
Step #3: change what needs to be changed
At this point, the hardest parts are done. Once you understand that things are not working as expected, I’m sure you will know what to do. You can decide to go with reality as in the Tel-Aviv example I gave here, or to try and change it. There is no right answer and each case should be considered on its own.
But one thing is clear: you can’t change what you don’t know that is happening. Make sure you are brutally honest with yourself to be able to make a real difference.