Sometimes ‘Good’ Is Good Enough
I used to know a project manager that employees secretly called “the Tweaker.” This nickname was not an oblique reference to a drug problem, but it was perhaps just as unflattering. Nobody wanted to work for the Tweaker because doing so was an act of self-destruction. You see, nothing was ever good enough for her. You could stay up all night, drinking buckets of coffee to power through as you overhauled your presentation to meet her last-minute changes, and it still wouldn’t be quite right. That’s because the Tweaker would always find something else to tweak. She was constantly praised by upper management for her perfectionism, meanwhile every single one of her employees was speeding toward the nearest off-ramp on the expressway to crazy town.
There are plenty of laudatory things I could say about perfection. But not here, not today. This post is an impassioned argument about why we sometimes need to stop searching for perfection and settle for good enough. It’s an idea that embraces many of the previous topics I’ve written about, including the importance of failure and hiding out in big corporate. In short, perfection can stop us from innovating because we never move forward. Consider this great quote from research professor and best-selling author Brené Brown:
Perfectionism is not about striving to be your best. It’s not about healthy achievement and growth. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect and act perfect, we’ll escape the pain of criticism, ridicule, judgment and shame. It’s a shield. Perfectionism is a 20-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us, when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from taking flight.
It’s so easy to get stuck in the infinite loop of perfection, especially for managers and entrepreneurs. We hide our fear in the cloak of perfection so we never have to explain why we can’t pull the trigger on a project or launch our big idea into the world. While we are busy spinning our web of perfection, our competitors are getting the jump on us and we’re losing profits. I’m not talking about careful preparation; I’m talking about wasting time. You know the difference.
In his 2011 article for Harvard Business Review titled “Good Enough Can Be Great,” management professor Aaron Nurick offered up a much nicer alternative to the Tweaker. He extolled the virtues of the “Good Enough Manager,” or GEM. Nurick says the GEM is someone who can “find the balance between hands-off and handling everything themselves.” These are folks who know how to blend management with mentoring, who know how to give their employees just enough rope to soar while keeping them tethered to the goals. As opposed to giving them just enough rope to hang themselves.
I will admit that figuring out when good is good enough can be tough. That’s why I propose creating a Good-Enough Scale, which starts with the following questions:
- Why am I doing this? Is this exercise because we have always done it this way? Is it to set the example? Is it profound?
- What is at stake for this task? Will this affect revenue? Will it save significant costs?
- Who is this task or project for? Is it for internal or external consumption?
- Am I doing this because I have some personal standard, or is it required by the intended recipient or contract?
- How often will this be used? Is this a one-time thing or foundational to a bigger project?
Obviously, you can adapt (tweak!) these questions to suit your specific business environment. But I strongly believe that Good-Enough Scale is a useful way to stop the relentless pursuit of perfection. The next time you are mired in a project that you can’t seem to get off the ground, take an honest look at why you may be chasing your tail. Remember that sometimes work is a work in progress. And sometimes good is good enough.
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