In Praise of “Good Enough”

2013-11-04

Stop trying to make it perfect. Let good enough be good enough. That next little tweak will not make it all that much better than it is now! Many of us in leadership have perfectionist tendencies. We are good at what we do in large part because we can see how things can get better and we are good at getting that done. Perfectionism has raised us to a position of leadership. Perfectionism has been rewarded. But should it?

Perfectionism gets rewarded because there is a close relationships between perfectionism and excellence. The pursuit of perfection often leads to excellent results. So it is understandable why perfectionists often become leaders. On the downside, the costs of perfectionism are not always worth the investment! The most direct costs include lost time and frustrated people. Lost time and hurt relationships are two problems that leaders cannot afford to have.

So what is the alternative? “Good enough” sounds weak. To a leader “good enough” sounds like giving up. That phrase doesn’t quite capture what we’re looking for anyway. Good enough is passive and not strategic. What leaders need to learn to do is called “satisficing.” Satisficing is an active decision-making process designed to help you be strategic in your use of time and other resources.

The word “satisfice” is a combination of two other words: satisfy and suffice.1 It refers to the process of finding the first available option that satisfies a set of criteria. Satisficing is contrasted with optimizing, in which the goal is to seek the single, optimal solution. For leaders, both concepts, optimizing and satisficing are important.

The trick is to know when you should be optimizing and when you should be satisficing.

This blog is a place to practice satisficing. The alternative doesn’t apply: there is no one, optimal article on satisficing. The work I perform for my clients (Uh oh! Truth alert!) is often a place to exercise satisficing. While I always strive to produce high-quality work for my clients, it would be possible to tweak that work endlessly, looking for additional small improvements. They would never see a deliverable from me. So, in this case, the satisficing bar is set high, but it is nevertheless satisficing.

Optimization, on the other hand, must be applied in certain settings: medical diagnosis and treatment, and quality improvement programs are two that come to mind. My mom had a knee replaced a couple weeks ago. The surgeon did a great job and I do not think my mom would be happy with a satisficing approach to a knee replacement. Many of you are six sigma-trained. Optimizing is key to success in quality improvement.

So, while both satisficing and optimization are important, I’m going to take the position that the vast majority of a leader’s day-to-day decisions require satisficing, not optimizing.

Dr. Scott Yorkovich is a leadership coach and consultant. He works with individuals, small and medium organizations, and ministries. Contact him at ScottYorkovich[at]LeadStrategic.com with your questions.

Credits
Photo “Precision” by Justin.Taylor. Available at Flickr.com.

Notes:
1: “Satisficing” was first used by Herbert Simon in 1956. The concept has been applied in a number of disciplines: cognitive psychology, economics, applied research, and others. Read more about the history and use of satisficing in Wikipedia.

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