Does It Have to Be Perfect or Can It Be Good Enough?

Posted 12.13.2021

This isn’t the first time I’ve written about when things have to be perfect and when “good enough” is good enough. It probably won’t be the last.

As happened a couple of weeks ago, just about every time I work with a new cohort of leaders in our Next Level Leadership® group coaching program, someone ends up choosing the 360-degree feedback behavior, “Effectively differentiates between efforts that require perfection and those for which “good enough” is sufficient,” as a focal point for their personal development plan. And every time someone chooses it, I learn more about how leaders can make smart choices around what needs to be perfect and what can be good enough.

Because here’s the thing; there’s just not enough bandwidth or capacity for everything to be perfect. It was true before the way we all work was turned upside down; it’s even more true now. The competing commitments on our time and attention make it impossible to optimize every decision or project to a perfect level. Instead, we need to do what economists call “satisficing.” When you satisfice, you accept an available option as “good enough.”

Knowing how and when to satisfice is an important skill to have not just for driving productivity but for keeping yourself and your team sane. Here are some of the tactics my clients have been sharing with me lately that they use to determine when something has to be perfect or “good enough” is good enough.

Is It a 10 or a 2? – One of the leaders I’m working with likes to ask himself, “Is this a 10 or a 2?” It’s how he prioritizes his time, attention and effort. If something is important enough to rank as a 10, he’s all in on making it as good as he and his team can make it. If it’s more on the 2 end of the importance spectrum, good enough will suffice. Perhaps not surprisingly, very few things on his list end up with a ranking of 10.

Is This Just My Version of Perfect? – More and more of the leaders I’m working with are learning how to let go of their version of “perfect.” There’s almost always more than one way to solve a problem and your way, as elegant and brilliant as it may be, isn’t the only way. When you let go of your version of perfect and give your team members space to come up with their own solutions, everybody usually wins.

It’s Going to Change Anyway – When you stop and think about it, most of the decisions we make or projects we launch change almost as soon as we make them or launch them. As some brilliant military strategist said at some point (the origin is disputed), “No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy.” The need to be perfect is quite often the enemy of being flexible and adaptable as conditions change. As you and your team do your work, it’s usually more important to consider the range of things that could happen and put something out there that gives you the greatest opportunity to flex when needed than to invest tons of time and effort in a “perfect” solution that could well be obsolete soon after it’s implemented.

What have you been learning lately about allocating the time, attention and energy of yourself and your team across the spectrum of “good enough” solutions and “perfect” solutions? If you’re reading this post through LinkedIn, please leave a comment. If you’re reading this directly on the Eblin Group blog, please send me a note. I love it when you share your ideas and experience.

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