Two things at once? No problem, right?
The second post in my series on convention wisdom. Check out the introduction to the series...
When was the last time you killed a bird with a stone? Yeah, me neither. The idea of “killing two birds with one stone” is old, dating back to the 1600s. So what’s the story with this 400 year old piece of wisdom?
It seems pretty straightforward: accomplish two goals with one effort. People use the phrase at home and in business all the time. But if you dig down into the metaphor, it’s anything but simple.
Accidentally killing two birds with one stone is a lucky bit of good fortune, but trying to kill two birds with one stone is a trick shot. The degree of difficulty is high. The birds need to be aligned perfectly. You’ve got to pick the right angle. You need to be a little lucky. You might only get one bird and you might miss both all together.
Planning to kill two birds with one stone only makes sense if you must kill two birds and you have only one stone. If you only need one bird, target that bird and make sure you don’t miss. And if you have more than one stone, use them.
Let me translate that into modern terms.
If you happen to accidentally solve two problems with one solution, that’s awesome.
If you plan to solve two problems with one solution, be prepared that you might not solve either problem. If you really care about solving a problem, develop a solution for that issue specifically. In other words:
Kill one bird with one stone.
And if the “bird” is big enough, you may need to develop multiple tactics to address the issue:
Kill one bird with two stones.
Most people try to kill “two birds with one stone” because they lack the resources, time or energy to fully attack both issues. But it’s a strategic flaw. A lack of focus. More often than not, this approach results in bad solutions.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen organizations shortcut good strategic thinking and try to quickly solve multiple problems with one solution. It almost always ends up as a mess, takes longer and costs more. In the end, no issues are adequately solved.
If you are serious about solving problems, take aim and focus directly on the issues at hand. You’ll be much more successful in the long run.
Bob Wertz writes about design, technology and pop culture at Sketchbook B. Bob is a Columbia, South Carolina-based designer, creative director, college instructor, husband and dad. He’s particularly obsessed with typography, the creative process and the tools we use to create. In his spare time, he is thinking about taking up bird watching. Follow Bob on Twitter and Instagram.