Between high school and college, I took half a dozen courses in economics. The details of these courses have long since faded from memory, but I remember well one principle that was repeated:
Good enough is best.
Economics is, after all, the study of how we make decisions with scare resources. Since resources are always scarce, we constantly need to make decisions to say yes to some things and no to others.
“Good enough is best,” is a principle that reminds us to stop when it no longer makes sense to invest more resources.
The classic example of this is washing a car. You could spend 7 hours on a Saturday washing your car. However, for most people, spending 30 minutes washing a car is “good enough.”
Does a car look better after washing it for seven hours than it does after 30 minutes? Yes — but not enough to be noticeable to most people. That’s why 30 minutes is “good enough” — so you avoid the diminishing returns of increased time.
Sensible? Yes. Way harder in practice.
The problem is that while all these economics professors taught that “good enough is best” they reported grades like B+ when you just did just “good enough” in their classes.
I’m not sure what things were like in your schooling, but among my peer group, school system, and most importantly my own expectations, B+ just wasn’t good enough.
I wanted to get A’s. I expected to get A’s. Getting an A meant that you had things figured out — and that you were successful.
But the hard reality of effective leadership is that it’s not possible to knock out A’s all day long. There are never enough resources – especially time.
This precipitates a problem for leaders. Often, those of us who step into roles of increasing visibility and responsibility are the people who were the “A players” in our prior positions — or in school. Or often, both.
And then we get hammered with the realities of defining priorities in an environment of scare resources.
So, we do one of three things:
For a lot of us, our first inclination is to keep getting A’s.
We work crazy hours. We do things that probably aren’t in our job description but really we need to do, just this once or twice, because nobody else does it quite as well as we do. We drive people nuts by micromanaging, to make sure that the A’s continue. We don’t take many vacation days. We convince ourselves that we are indispensable.
When that doesn’t work, some of us learn to opt out. We don’t pitch the new idea to the executive team. We don’t start the business. We don’t ask to change our role. We don’t take quite as much initiative as we could or should. Because, we know there are B, C, D, and F grades along those roads.
It’s easy to stay on the road where you only get A’s.
The better option is to stop obsessing over the A itself and to start obsessing over the choices made about what gets A work and what gets B+ work — or perhaps even C work.
The reality of leadership is that you have to decide what’s really important, what’s good enough, and what isn’t worth the time.
I’m not arguing for sloppy work. I’ve had many situations in my career when nailing an A+ result was essential.
But it retrospect, there have been way more times when A work was a waste of everybody’s time and the only thing driving the A work was me not even stopping to consider that any other way we prudent.
What’s something right now that others or you are putting A work into, where B+ work would be perfectly fine — and free up more of your time to do what’s really important?