Is Good Enough Neither?
I first heard the above phrase from my son’s 8th grade English teacher. It was the theme she had chosen for the school year. The class was read a poem written by a former student titled “Good Enough is Neither” and were told to cogitate on it for the balance of the year. Various assignments followed, including a request for the students to assess and view their own goals, dreams and hopes through the lens of good enough is neither. It's a weighty meditation for young minds and a great exercise worthy of deeper inspection in a business context. Is good enough neither in the business world?
In the wake of the recent Times article on the alleged toxic work culture at Amazon—asking if good enough is enough is a fair and timely question. Most would agree that perfection is wrapped in idealism—a construct of the mind that can only be sought but not achieved. And most corporations realize this but still expect perfection from their employees. The common mantra is to strive for excellence by reaching for perfection…that good enough simply does not set the bar high enough.
Short of embracing a dystopian corporate mindset of workaholics and micro-managers that expect and reward perfection and dispense harsh penalties to those who fall short…there must be an alternative. And there is of course. While we cannot all deliver 100% all of the time, it seems the expected performance needle for success still remains pegged somewhere between “rock-star” and “perfectionist”. But is that true? A closer look at many of the most successful innovators and leaders of our time—Sir Richard Branson, Elon Musk, Thomas Edison, Larry Page, Salman Khan, Ray Kurzweil—reveals an overarching attitude that wholeheartedly dispenses any notion of perfection. In fact, failure is often cited as a step forward.
Far from exhaustive – here is my list of what good enough leaders employ:
Consummate doers, always moving the proverbial ball forward
Find lessons in their failures and realize the greatest weakness is to give up
Realize that hard work and persistence outshine perfection 10 -1
Understand and employ the art of delegation
Realize fear of not delivering perfection is immobilizing – they fail early and innovate often
Embrace work, life balance and strive to enjoy and have fun in all of their endeavors
Empathetic and attuned to their employees emotions and get to know and treat them as individuals
Embrace the role of teacher, mentor, and positive role model
Give early and often…without expectation of receiving
Promote a culture of autonomy and innovation with freedom to take calculated risks and fail
Exude authenticity and genuineness
Strive for progress
Creating a culture of accountability where employees are rewarded for their ideas without fear of failure effectively removes the burden of perfection without lowering the standard of excellence. For my son, the 8th grade lesson of "Good Enough is Neither" was invaluable in that he devised his own mantra—reach beyond your grasp but don’t fear falling.