Is “good enough” good enough?
Several years ago, I wrote a column suggesting there are certain situations in which it is better to deliver work that is less than perfect. It resulted in an angry e-mail from a reader, aghast that I was advocating for anything less than an above-and-beyond effort. “Leaders expect high performance from their staff,” she said, “and employees should strive to deliver nothing less than 100 per cent.” But I stood by my assertion then, and I still stand by it now.
My insight comes from the natural world, and it is subject of my column this morning in The Globe and Mail. In The compelling case for ‘good enough’ in the workplace, I explain how organisms in nature never seek to achieve a perfect solution; they just keep adapting until things are “good enough.” The phrase “good enough” normally carries negative undertones. But if we can get past that, it’s biggest prize is adaptability; and long-term survival.
The compelling case for ‘good enough’ in the workplace
If you’re a paid online subscriber to The Globe, here is a direct link to the column on their site: https://tgam.ca/2IK9DmN. If you’re a subscriber to the print edition, my column is expected to publish there on Wednesday.
Well, what is your reaction to “good enough”? Do concur with my perspective? Or do you agree with the horrified reader who wrote to me several years ago? I want to know what you think, and what your experiences have been. Please share by commenting below.
If you want to catch up on some of my past columns in The Globe and Mail, here are some of my most recent ones:
It seems to me that many of our economic problems seem are driven by an unquestioned need for growth, often requiring extraction, production, consumption, and so the cycle continues. Maybe if we strive for good enough rather than as much as possible, some of our economic (and associated environmental) problems would be diminished. I think this is particularly evident we try to exceed natural constraints or boundary conditions fo willr optimal (and sustainable) performance. What normally occurs is a sub optimal return on investment.
Metaphor Alert: I am a casual kayaker. Kayaks tend to have an optimal hull speed. Let’s call that speed “good enough” because it is effective, efficient and can be sustained with a reasonable effort. My experience is that for a short time, if I paddle really hard and fast, I can exceed the optimal hull speed if I don’t feel my speed is “good enough”. However, I can’t keep it up for very long. Exceeding the kayak’s “good enough” hull speed diminishes my ability to cruise for a greater distance because I’m putting more energy into paddling faster than is being returned in terms of the overall distance I can travel (given my energy resources).
Perhaps naively, I happen to believe that there are natural constraints to industries, markets and ecosystem that we could describe as “good enough”. Excess growth (get as much as possible) is unsustainable. Guess as long as you’re only focussed on the present and don’t care about tomorrow (for yourself or your family and their families), it may be understandable to reject the notion of “good enough” being . . . well, “good enough”. However, it might be worth pausing to reflect on the cost of only being satisfied with “as much as possible”.
Agree completely David. Your metaphor is apt. Much like “good enough” kayaking leads to greater stamina and distance overall, “good enough” in business leads to long-term success. However, as you have likely seen, the negative stigma attached to “good enough” carries a lot of weight. At least one person who commented directly on The Globe’s site opined that “good enough” gradually lowers standards, not unlike the response I received from my horrified reader when I said the same thing several years ago.