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When duct tape becomes good enough …

I’m waiting for my flight, seated in the boarding gate area at the airport.  While there, I notice that two sides of the gate agent’s counter are held together with pieces of gray duct tape.  Within moments, I realize that duct tape has been used to repair the hinge of the cabinet door, as well as the vinyl laminate on the top corner.  Curious, I walk around to the other side to take another look, and sure enough, one of the cabinet door handles is taped up as well.  It is clear that these four repairs were not all made at the same time; I can tell because the tape in each of the four areas has different degrees of fading, discoloration, and wear.  In fact, to my (untrained) eye, the oldest repair looks like it might have been there for months, even years.

Which got me thinking.  Why did the first person decide to fix the counter with duct tape?  Perhaps it was meant to be a temporary fix, but clearly at some point this first person made a default or intentional decision to let it continue.  They either neglected to fix it themselves, or to take the steps to have someone else fix it properly.  Someone, somewhere, decided that the duct tape was adequate and passable, possibly just “for now”.  Perhaps the next three fixes were done by the same person, or they could have been done by someone else.  But the next three people also made the identical decision – that duct tape was acceptable.  Probably because they observed that duct tape was good enough.  And so the downward spiral to mediocre began.  While I’ll never know for sure, I’m inclined to believe that future repairs to this gate agent’s counter will also involve duct tape, because clearly it is considered satisfactory.  And the general decline will continue.

What decisions are you making that are (inadvertently) telling your people that mediocre is acceptable?  Is it okay to submit unverified financial data to management?  Do you turn a blind eye when you see your staff standing around and discussing last night’s game when a customer is waiting to be served or a deadline is looming?  Is it acceptable to write and send a letter without proofreading it for errors and spelling mistakes?  If you say yes, then be aware that you are sending a clear message that mediocre is acceptable.  And at some point, mediocre will slide into poor.

I’d love to hear about your experiences.  Do you have examples of the general decline from excellent to mediocre, and from mediocre to poor?  I’d love to hear more.  Please share by commenting directly on the blog at

In The Globe and Mail: Negative criticism — How to tell the useful from the useless 
A great two-step process to unemotionally evaluate the criticism you receive so that you can decide what to do next.
Read: How to differentiate helpful from unhelpful negative criticism

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New and Notable Blog Posts Did You Know