Do it right the first time! How many times have you heard those words? How many times have you uttered that phrase? You’ve heard it from your parents, from your educators and from your boss at work. You’ve said it to your children, to anyone you’ve been responsible for training, and to your employees.
Why should I do it right the first time? We all know the standard answer: because it will take more time and money to redo it than it would have taken to do it right the first time.
Whether it is Boeing, Airbus or any other manufacturer, it takes about 100,000 man-years to design, test, and build a commercial airliner. Typically that means a team of perhaps 10,000 engineers working for ten years or 20,000 professionals working for five years. This helps us understand why total development costs for a brand-new plane can run as high as ten billion dollars.
In 2010 it became clear to Boeing that they needed to offer their airline customers an aircraft powered by a new type of jet engine which was larger, more powerful, and more fuel efficient. Apparently, they spent a few months trying to decide whether to commit to a multi-year new airplane development program or whether to find a way to fit the new engines onto the wings of the venerable 737.
In the summer of 2011, Boeing’s biggest customer, American Airlines, announced that they were purchasing over 400 new planes. Since they wanted the new, efficient engines, they planned on buying hundreds of planes from Boeing’s competitor, Airbus, which had already placed an airliner powered by the new engines on the market. This forced Boeing’s hand and they decided to retool the 737 to accept the new engines.
Boeing’s earliest test flights revealed that the extra power of the new engines could force the nose of the 737MAX upwards under certain conditions. This was because the fifty-year-old airplane was designed for smaller engines. The famed airplane company decided on a software fix which they called MCAS (Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System). The flight computers were programed to adjust the flight attitude of the airplane whenever the nose tended to pitch upwards. Without even notifying the pilot, the computers would momentarily push the airplane’s nose down towards the ground. A better solution would have been aerodynamic changes to the ancient airframe, but they would have taken much longer and cost far more.
Two planes crashed (October 2018 and March 2019) and 346 lives were lost. Regulatory agencies around the world grounded the 737MAX last March. Optimistic voices at Boeing predicted the plane would regain its airworthiness certification no later than April 2019. At this time, it is all but certain that the plane will not fly before 2020.
The reason I told you this long sad story is because, though it is hard to be precise and Boeing is not talking, it is certain that the entire financial cost to Boeing of the 737MAX calamity is fast approaching the 10 billion dollars that it would have cost the company to develop a brand new plane in the first place. That is not counting the cost of the damage to Boeing’s brand reputation or the harder to quantify yet more important cost of the human tragedy. Yes, indeed, do it right the first time because it will be harder/more expensive/take longer to fix.
Here comes a great big but. But that isn’t always true. There are some things just not important enough to take the extra time to do right if doing it quickly and cheaply will work 80% of the time. The lad mows the lawn but omits the challenging bits near flower beds and tree trunks. His father might notice or he might not. If he does, he might ask his son to fix it or he might not. And if he asks his son to fix it, it won’t take that much longer than doing it earlier. In this case, in his own interests, the young man made the logical choice.
For years already software companies have put out products far from ready for the market. They certainly did not do it right the first time. On the contrary, they counted upon early users to be unpaid fault finders. Astute consumers quickly learned never to purchase the first release of a new software product. Obviously, their “Do NOT do it right the first time” policy paid off because the practice persisted.
Doing it right the first time is often but not always the best strategy. But doing the first time right is always the right thing to do. (Reading those sentences aloud will help you see the difference.)
Let me explain. Of his own volition, Joshua prohibited Israel from taking spoils when they conquered the city of Jericho. (Joshua 6:18) However, Israel was allowed to plunder the next city they conquered, Ai.
You shall treat Ai… as you treated Jericho…
however, you may take the spoil and the cattle as booty for yourselves…
It puzzles us why Joshua considered it important not to seize booty from Jericho. God even went along with Joshua’s prohibition including bringing major disaster upon all of Israel because one man, Achan, helped himself to a few items from Jericho. As a result, their attack on the second target city, Ai, turned into a catastrophe.
Here’s why Joshua prohibited plunder at Jericho. That ancient walled city was the first objective in what would be Israel’s long battle for their country. Joshua wanted the enterprise of capturing Jericho to contain no moral imperfection. The army of Israel was to attack the city with no personal considerations but, rather, only in response to God’s directions. No soldier should be thinking of what he might plunder.
Achieving moral perfection in that first capture would set the tone for future military campaigns. Doing it right the first time is often important but doing the first time right is always important. It builds morale for the future.
One’s entire career can gain a boost from the way we treat our very first job. It can be viewed as a special opportunity to do it right, thereby creating an internal sense of professional dedication which can become a lasting part of one’s personality. Many who later fail treated their first job with disdain.
One’s first act of physical intimacy with another human being of the opposite gender can be done right. It can be performed within the holy covenant of marriage thereby conferring a unique incandescence upon that marriage. There is no shortage of published (but unpopular) information on the advantages enjoyed by marriages entered into by two virgins. Yes, doing the first time right always makes a real difference.
Whether establishing a new relationship, starting one’s first business, or experiencing any other undertaking for the first time, doing it right sets up the future for success.
Some of us may be past most of life’s firsts, but there are younger people in our orbits whom we are capable of influencing. They have heard the oft-repeated aphorism of do it right the first time. But doing the first time right will be a new and novel lesson for them to hear and for you to impart.
6 thoughts on “Do the First Time Right!”
After much contemplation on this lesson I’m not sure I understand what you are saying but if you will allow me to use a different example I will know if I have it or if I’m close to having it or if I’ve totally missed the boat on this one.
Let’s say I am an expert surgeon and I have learned that there are, say, 20 steps to follow in order to remove an appendix. Now, after many 20 step appendectomies, I know that I can safely and successfully remove an appendix in, say, 16 steps. So, although I would teach a student all 20 steps so that his experience would be, like mine, “first time right”, I may personally be known to omit the steps I have found to be less necessary due to my vast experience.
Am I on the right track or have I completely misunderstood the lesson here?
Just to be clear Rabbi, would saying, “do the right thing all the time” be another way of making your point, “do the first time right?” Sorry to be a slow student.
Yes, very true with my emphasis on the special importance of the first time one does anything. More important to do it right when one is engaged in a “first” than at any other time. Cordially
Great article and so very true. I have often cut a corner only to really regret it — even if it did not catch up with me, I still knew it was not done well.
You did notice that the Thought Tool was really about doing the first time right rather than doing it right the first time, didn’t you? Though as you say, doing it right the first time is usually good policy too.
They’re not the same.
Yes sir. This is a concept worth further contemplation. You have changed my life and lifted the fog of worldly/current accepted thoughts (for lack of a better phrase) through your teachings. Thank you.
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