The Case for Overcorrection

Jan 10, 2022 | Biography, Coaching, Shared thoughts

I doubt there is a case for overreaction, but I’m going to make one for overcorrection. When our actions don’t seem to be hitting the mark, it can make sense to try a biggish shift to ‘move the needle’ rather than tweaks that fall short of making a noticeable difference. This is true even if we then must correct backwards to find the ‘sweet spot’.

My analogy is from the way artillery fire worked back in my days in the army. I’m pretty sure that technology will have rendered my story obsolete for military purposes, but not as a general lesson.

Large howitzers were able to reach great distances, but to make that fire effective, there needed to be someone (brave soul) closer to the target with a radio to signal corrections back to the firing position if initial rounds were off the mark. This forward observer would instruct the battery to make shifts left or right in addition to adding or dropping range.

This was an inexact science, because although the observer was relatively close to the target, estimating corrections in two dimensions across still material distances was difficult. One of the principal rules for the observer was to ensure they quickly ‘bracketed the target’. This meant, essentially, to overcorrect.

So if the observer estimated that a shell landed between 200 and 300 meters short of the target, they might call to add 400m of range. Why? Because, barring a lucky direct hit, the quickest way to narrow in on the target was to establish points to either side of it. These points bounded or bracketed the sweet spot and set up a known route to the target through alternating corrections half the size of the last.

The risk of instead trying to ‘walk’ the fire in from one side was that in the case of a significant underestimate of the deviation, it could take more corrections and more time. And time is something that can run out.

The extrapolation to broader life is relatively obvious. If you receive feedback that your emails are too long, try writing a few hyper-concise ones and correct as necessary from there. You’ll see and reach the sweet spot more quickly having seen it from both directions.

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