Years ago a coach told me practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect. That’s an analogy I try to keep in mind in business as well – doing something the wrong way repeatedly just makes you good at doing something incorrectly. That applies to business processes, sales tactics and virtually every element of running a business – it’s easy to be good at doing the wrong thing…or the right thing, the wrong way.

What does that have to do with “trust, but verify”? It’s a different take on that old adage, learned through the school of hard knocks – the best, most painful education you can get. What I learned is just because you verify something, doesn’t mean it was verified correctly. In other words, what you think you know, may not be correct.

My practical lesson for this occurred when I was diagnosing a marine generator overheating issue – stay with me, we’ll get to the business connection. The short version is I visually checked that a key element – the heat exchanger – in the generator was clean and therefore not the issue. I later found a loose belt that, when tightened, fixed the overheating problem. Fast forward a few months and the overheating returned. I thought it couldn’t be the heat exchanger, after all, I just checked it a few months prior.

It turns out the main issue was–you guessed it–the heat exchanger, and my initial verification hadn’t been detailed enough. Because of that, I remained blind to the obvious issue, and spent hours chasing other possible causes. It was only when I got out of my own way and verified the right thing the right way that the problem was solved.

Too often business is like that. We dismiss a possible issue because of overconfidence. Our people are trained; the product doesn’t do that; it’s impossible to install it the wrong way; we get an alert when the system is down; an employee would never say that, etc.

Lesson learned. My new mantra when I’m trying to track down the root cause of an issue and develop a solution is: “Verify, and then verify I’m verifying the right thing the right way.”