Success: Two pitfalls and one tip

Posted: December 13, 2010 in Useful advice for students
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This post came out of a conversation my husband and I had with a group of students. How can we deliver successful projects? There’s no easy recipe, but here are two pitfalls to avoid and one tip to follow:

Overconfidence

I noticed that I make most mistakes when I’m overconfident. Overconfidence makes you take shortcuts and not give your full attention to what you’re doing. It prevents you from thinking about each aspect of your work carefully, cautiously, and with curiosity. It makes it easy to overlook important requirements, and not notice errors. Whenever you find yourself thinking “this is easy!” – do a double take. Try to look at the project with fresh eyes, as if you’re seeing/doing it for the first time ever. Try to see what you could be missing. Avoid disengaging and making rushed decisions just because you think you know. If you need an additional challenge to keep you engaged, aim to exceed expectations. See the last tip in this post.

Social loafing

This happens a lot in group work, and I’ve fallen into this pitfall myself. When you do a group project, you do your fair share of the work, and then you “outsource” proofreading and the responsibility for the final check to the group. You think that someone else will catch that spelling error or realize that there’s an important section of the report that you forgot about entirely. The problem is, every other group member falls into the same pitfall. And then, no one proofreads carefully and no one carries the responsibility of the final quality check. The product gets delivered with spelling errors or stupid mistakes that could have easily been caught if you (yes, you, not someone else in the group) had assumed the responsibility of the final quality check. So, this applies to every member of the group: Before delivering the final product, imagine you are the single author. There is no one else to proofread the report, no one else to catch errors. Look at it with the most careful and critical eye and assume sole responsibility of ensuring there are no errors.

Aim to exceed expectations

And finally, after two DONT”S, here’s a DO: Aim to exceed expectations. Most of us aim to meet expectations. We satisfice. We try to deliver a good enough product. But how many of us aim to exceed expectations? How often do you work on a project thinking “I want this to be the best report this teacher has ever seen!” ? If you aim for 100% (or more realistically, somewhere around the 95% mark), errors will happen, and you’ll likely end up around 85%, if all goes well. But if you aim for 150%, with the inevitable imperfections, your project will still meet or exceed expectations. The additional thoughtfulness, creativity, and motivation are very easily noticeable in someone’s work. So, don’t aim for “Meets Expectations” – aim for “Mind-Blowing.”

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