Sometimes, good enough is good enough

In the deepest poverty you should never do anything perfectly. If you do you are stealing resources from where they can be better used. Ingegerd Roth, missionary nurse in Congo 

This principle applies anytime we are prioritizing scarce resources.

Today I spent an hour washing my car. On a scale from 1 (extremely dirty) to 10 (near perfect), it started out as a 3 and 30 minutes later it was an 8. I could have worked another hour and reached 9.5 but it would not have been worth it. To invest another 60 minutes for a 1.5 increase didn’t seem prudent. After all, it may rain tomorrow.

I had the same thought when pruning the bushes at my house. Must I pursue perfection when the bushes are still vigorously growing? Within a day or two, an energetic stem will poke through the top of the well-manicured hedge and ruin my straight line, so why bother?

Other projects require a higher standard.

  • If the stakes are high, strive for perfection—we want our surgeon to be persnickety.
  • If the item is a prototype to be mass-produced, be obsessive about getting the first one right. (I’m always disappointed to see typos in first-edition books published by major publishing companies.) 
  • If you’re a professional, people pay you to be good and fast, so be both.  

But sometimes, good enough is good enough. Sometimes done is better than perfect.

Tom Peterson adds this to the conversation: “By the way, what is perfect? Paul McCartney’s Blackbird—is it done or perfect? I lean toward perfect. But most Beatles recordings (there are around 300) are simply done. Yet their combined effect was a fantastically creative body of work. 

“In the early years, the group performed relentlessly and found its sound. And when they were in song writing mode, Lennon and McCartney would set aside a series of days. Paul would drive to John’s house on the scheduled day, ‘We always wrote a song a day, whatever happened we always wrote a song a day,’ he said. ‘We never had a dry day.’

“Voltaire wrote, ‘Perfect is the enemy of the good.’ Had the Beatles performed only their perfect work perfectly, we’d have never heard of them.

“As we create projects and campaigns to improve the world, we shoot not for perfect but done. Yes, we should develop our programs as well as we can. But will any of our work be perfect? Not likely.”

Here’s a good article on the downside of perfectionism. 

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/better-perfect/201611/9-signs-you-might-be-perfectionist

   

Resist abnormality

Trip to Peru - information meeting on May 18

It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a sick society. Jiddu Krishnamurti

I’ll expand Krishnamurti’s insightful advice to include multiple applications.

  • It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a sick relationship.
  • It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a sick job.
  • It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a sick organization or movement.

We often find ourselves in an unhealthy environment but instead of resisting, we adjust to the pathology and consider it the new normal. We may have pure motives—to maintain peace and equilibrium, or to help others who are in the same situation—but the end result is the same: the abnormal becomes the new standard.    

For instance, we may consciously or unconsciously adjust to society’s infatuation with consumerism, or to an abusive relationship, or to an unfulfilling job, or to a failing organization—and soon embrace a distorted sense of well-being. We become passive and ignore the need for change.

The first step out of the morass is to see clearly the abnormality. But that’s usually hard to do. How can we tell when we’re in a sick environment, particularly when we’ve been in it for a long time? For instance, when growing up in a particular family, how is a child to know what is normal and abnormal? Often the acclimation has been so slow and subtle that we’re unaware something is amiss (frog in the boiling water syndrome).

It often takes an outside intervention to help us see clearly. A good and faithful friend tells us that something in our life seems wrong. An outside consultant tells us that parts of our organization are dysfunctional.

Visiting other environments can also help us gain clarity. For instance, as a teenager, when I was around my friends’ families I began to realize the oddities of my own. Traveling to foreign countries may expose inadequacies of your homeland. In other words, exposure to healthy situations can reveal the sickness of our own.

Once we see that something is atypical, the next challenge is to courageously resist, which is difficult because we may have a vested interest in the situation and/or the problems may be deeply engrained. In some cases, freedom will only come through a complete break with the system.

Ask yourself: in what areas of life have I succumbed to an unhealthy norm?

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

I’m hosting a trip to Peru, May 6-15, 2020. It will be limited to 50 travelers. Here’s the brochure. On Saturday, May 18, 2019 from 4:00-5:00, I’m hosting a free information meeting for anyone who wants more details about the trip. It will be held in the DFW metroplex and broadcast live on Facebook for those who live elsewhere. If you want to attend, email me at djmcminn@msn.com or respond to this blot post.

Ready, fire, aim

Trip to Peru - information meeting on May 18

Last year I wrote a post titled Have a bias toward action, in which I suggested: “We’ve all heard the adage—ready, aim, fire—which sounds like a logical sequence of events, but sometimes we get transfixed on the aim element. Some organizations (and individuals) get bogged down by over-analyzing and over-thinking details and options. Paralysis by analysis sets in; nothing gets done. Perhaps we should consider: ready, fire, aim.”

A friend of mine, Dane H., who has a military background, added this to the conversation: “Here’s an example of what you talk about, taken from my days in the Army.

“Prior to firing on the range, we ‘zero’ our weapon. That is, we have to calibrate the sights for how the soldier firing that rifle shoots in order to hit the target. The first step is to fire three shots at a target from 25 meters, triangulate the holes in the paper and adjust the sights in order to achieve a tighter shot group closer to the center of the target. So, to your point, we literally ready and fire understanding that our results won’t be optimal until we course-correct.”

Sometimes, ready-fire-aim is the smart process to pursue:

    • Before you make a major career change, try it out. If you’re thinking of being a UPS driver, ride around on a truck for several days. 
    • If you’re thinking of marrying someone, travel with him or her for two weeks. Travel brings out the best and worst in people.
    • Before launching a new product or service, submit a prototype or just the idea to a focus group and recalibrate based on their response.

Seldom do we get things right the first time. Most successful products and services are the result of many iterations. We learn a lot by acting and then adjusting.

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

I’m hosting a trip to Peru, May 6-15, 2020. It will be limited to 50 travelers. Here’s the brochure. On Saturday, May 18, 2019 from 4:00-5:00, I’m hosting a free information meeting for anyone who wants more details about the trip. It will be held in the DFW metroplex and broadcast live on Facebook for those who live elsewhere. If you want to attend, email me at djmcminn@msn.com or respond to this blot post.

Who’s the real perpetrator?

Trip to Peru - information meeting on May 18

There are two sides to every story, yet people end up listening to one side and believe it to be the truth.

Consider a hypothetical relationship in which one person commits a never-ending string of offenses, none of which are serious enough to warrant a drastic reaction from others, but their cumulative effect is great. The victim of these constant misdemeanors finally “has had enough” and commits a one-time, substantial offense that is obviously wrong. Most people who hear of the flagrant offense will lay blame on that person and not consider the balance of offenses. But, in this scenario, who is the real perpetrator?  

Reflect on these two examples:

For years, a spouse is negligent in meeting the emotional needs of his or her partner. Instead of fostering a caring, loving relationship, the persistent neglect leads to a cold, unbearable detachment. The marriage exists but it doesn’t.

After years of suffering, the neglected partner has an affair, seeking to have legitimate, important needs met but in an inappropriate way. Society sees only one culprit: the adulterer. But who is the real perpetrator? 

For years, a person tolerates an annoying family member, responding with grace to his or her constant litany of irritating behavior and verbal abuse. Finally, the recipient explodes in anger, using curse words to express years of pent-up frustration. Those who observe the confrontation are aghast at the terms used and think less of the person who said them, not being privy to the years of subtle yet constant abuse. But who is the real perpetrator?

Don’t fall prey to this unfair scenario. If you’re in a situation that is slowly eroding your well-being, make changes; don’t let the offenses slowly cumulate and then make a drastic reaction that turns you into the bad-guy. 

Also, don’t judge from afar, a situation in which you’re not privy to all the issues. Often, we only see the dramatic climax, not the cumulative effect of minor issues over time.  

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

I’m hosting a trip to Peru, May 6-15, 2020. It will be limited to 50 travelers. Here’s the brochure. On Saturday, May 18, 2019 from 4:00-5:00, I’m hosting a free information meeting for anyone who wants more details about the trip. It will be held in the DFW metroplex and broadcast live on Facebook for those who live elsewhere. If you want to attend, email me at djmcminn@msn.com or respond to this blot post.

 

Leaders: don’t let your personal capacity limit the capacity of your organization

Trip to Peru - information meeting on May 18

I define individual capacity as the maximum amount of productivity that a person can do and/or negotiate in a given period of time. Though we all have 24 hours in a day to produce, we each differ in how much work we’re able to complete. Some people can only keep “two plates spinning simultaneously,” others can negotiate four spinning plates, and others even more.

Every person has his or her personal capacity level and that level can can be increased.

Business consultant Robert Schaffer challenges us by saying: “Join me in testing the view that most companies are functioning at only 40, 50, or 60 percent of their capacity, and that the much higher levels of performance reached in emergencies are actually closer to true, sustainable potentials than are the ‘normal’ levels of performance.” 

In Schaffer’s sentence, let’s substitute the word “individual” for “companies”: “Join me in testing the view that most individuals are functioning at only 40, 50, or 60 percent of their capacity.” 

Twenty-five years ago I worked with a man who could spin ten plates simultaneously, but at that point in my life, I could only keep three or four plates spinning. When I compared my productivity to his, I often felt inadequate and intimidated (which stemmed from my own insecurity, not anything he said or did). But through the years I worked on increasing my capacity and now I can keep ten plates spinning.

Capacity is a function that can be increased. It is a natural part of maturation (a child’s capacity increases with age). A good goal in life is to continually increase your capacity. While there is a theoretical maximum, I doubt if any of us will reach it.  

Every organization also has a capacity level. Its baseline may be determined by resources (time, money, ideas, physical resources, etc.) but ultimately it is governed by human resources, primarily leadership. 

Having said all that, the main point I want to make in this essay is: leaders, don’t let your personal capacity limit the capacity of your organization. 

(I know I’m extending this metaphor to the breaking point, but…) if you’re only able to negotiate four spinning plates, don’t project that limit onto your organization; it’s probably capable of much more. Don’t crimp your organization’s potential by funneling everything through your personal capacity level. In fact, good leaders do the opposite-they encourage their team members and organization to achieve increasing levels of production. Instead of functioning as a governor they serve as an enabler. 

The very essence of good leadership is leveraging human resources. Strategic delegation can unleash fettered resources and capacity. Challenge and empower others and your organization will grow.

Sometimes, the roles are reversed: a leader’s capacity exceeds that of the organization and its individuals. In which case the leader can carefully and gradually increase the organization’s capacity.

The growth of an organization should never be constrained by any one person.  

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

I’m hosting a trip to Peru, May 6-15, 2020. It will be limited to 50 travelers. Here’s the brochure. On Saturday, May 18, 2019 from 4:00-5:00, I’m hosting a free information meeting for anyone who wants more details about the trip. It will be held in the DFW metroplex and broadcast live on Facebook for those who live elsewhere. If you want to attend, email me at djmcminn@msn.com or respond to this blot post.

 

Constructs that constrict

Trip to Peru - information meeting on May 18

Every December, Mary and I spend seven days on the Queen Mary 2, traversing the North Atlantic from London to New York. It is an incredible experience; I want to be on that exact trip every year until I die.

This year we took my four-year-old grandson, Benjamin. Prior to leaving, I determined that I would assume a new role in Benjamin’s life; in addition to being his favorite adult playmate I would become his tutor. 

So I developed a plan. Every day after lunch, we would meet for one hour to study mathematics, vocabulary, and other subjects, then go swimming, then take a nap. If he completed that quadfecta (eat, study, swim, nap), he would get a present (I felt it necessary to include some extrinsic motivation).

When working on addition and subtraction we used our ten fingers as the main teaching tool. It’s amazing what you can teach using your ten digits (and math can get more involved when you include toes).  

Which reminded me of an interesting, hypothetical connection that Fred Hoyle (a famous British astronomer) made about our fingers and computers. Hoyle speculated that if we had been born with eight digits instead of ten, we would have adopted octal arithmetic instead of decimal arithmetic. (He assumed that early humans learned the basics of math using their ten fingers just like Benjamin did on the trip.) Since 8 is a power of 2, we would have discovered binary arithmetic early on and since electronic computers are built on binary numbers, we might have invented computers a century earlier than we did.

Things that give order to our world can also restrict our thinking. Our division of time—24 hours in a day, 365 days in a year—is helpful but highly suggestive and can become deterministic. 

We inherit structures and systems from the past that both assist and mislead.

For instance, do you know why American trains run on tracks 4 ft 8.5 inches wide? You’re not going to believe the answer. Click here to read all about it.

https://aviationhumor.net/the-us-standard-railroad-gauge-is-4-feet-8-5-inches/

Do you know why the letters on our computer keyboards are arranged very inefficiently, such that it slows down our typing speed? Because when mechanical typewriters were first invented people could type faster than the mechanics could accommodate (are you old enough to remember the levers getting jammed before they struck the page?) so engineers designed the keyboard in such a way as to slow down the typing. More efficient keyboards have been developed but people refuse to learn a new approach. 

Beware of constructs that constrict. We’re helpless to change most of them (railroad tracks, keyboards), but some of them can be altered. 

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

I’m hosting a trip to Peru, May 6-15, 2020. It will be limited to 50 travelers. Here’s the brochure. On Saturday, May 18, 2019 from 4:00-5:00, I’m hosting a free information meeting for anyone who wants more details about the trip. It will be held in the DFW metroplex and broadcast live on Facebook for those who live elsewhere. If you want to attend, email me at djmcminn@msn.com or respond to this blot post.

I don’t envy, and neither should you

Trip to Peru - information meeting on May 18

Envy is the most stupid of vices, for there is no single advantage to be gained from it. Balzac

I have many personal defects but there’s one vice I don’t struggle with: I don’t envy anyone. 

As a young professional I struggled with envy, but perhaps age and maturity have dimmed that vice. Now, I can honestly say I am free from the debilitating and distracting feelings of envy. When someone wins, profits, or is acknowledged, I am happy for him or her. 

Envy is a feeling of discontented or resentful longing aroused by someone else’s possessions, qualities, or luck. We resent the advantage enjoyed by another person and we often desire to possess the same advantage, coveting what someone else has.

Aristotle defined envy as pain at the sight of another’s good fortune, stirred by “those who have what we ought to have.” Bertrand Russell said that envy was one of the most potent causes of unhappiness. Not only is the envious person rendered unhappy by his or her envy, Russell explained, but that person may also wish to inflict misfortune on others, because of their advantage.

Most situations in life are not zero-sum scenarios (in order for someone to win, someone else must lose). To the contrary, there’s usually ample room for everyone to do well. So why be envious of others? And even in zero-sum situations (for instance, only one team can win the Super Bowl each year), why not graciously rejoice with those who come out on top? Is there any redemptive value in envy? I don’t think so. Someone else’s victory is not your defeat.

  • Envy is spawned when we have a limited and myopic view of ourselves and the world: embrace the vastness of time and space and envy will dissipate. 
  • Envy is also cultivated by a self-centered, self-reverential worldview: prefer others and envy will lose its grip. 
  • A perpetual attitude of gratitude will help guard against envy: be grateful for what you have, not what you don’t have.

Envy is the art of counting another’s blessings instead of your own and it has no benefit.

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

I’m hosting a trip to Peru, May 6-15, 2020. It will be limited to 50 travelers. Here’s the brochure. On Saturday, May 18, 2019 from 4:00-5:00, I’m hosting a free information meeting for anyone who wants more details about the trip. It will be held in the DFW metroplex and broadcast live on Facebook for those who live elsewhere. If you want to attend, email me at djmcminn@msn.com or respond to this blot post.

Breaking barriers

Trip to Peru - information meeting on May 18

On May 6, 1954, middle-distance athlete Roger Bannister ran the first sub-four-minute mile in recorded history. The 25-year-old native of Harrow on the Hill, England, completed the distance in 3:59.4 at Oxford. At the end of the year, Bannister retired from running to pursue his medical studies. He later became a neurologist.

For hundreds of years, running a sub-four-minute mile was thought to be humanly impossible. Many predicted it would never happen. Then Bannister did it, breaking the previous record by 6/10th of a second.

Interestingly, within one year of Bannister breaking the record, 37 other runners ran the mile in under four minutes. The next year, 300 runners did the same. Today, high school athletes do it regularly. Once the mythical barrier was punctured it ceased to be an impregnable obstacle.

In 1999, Moroccan athlete Hicham El Guerrouj set a new world record for the mile – 3:43.13  minutes – an incredible 16 seconds faster than the “impossible mark.” 

We are often limited and constrained by artificial boundaries. Conventional wisdom tells us that something can’t be done, and we acquiesce to the suggestion, considering it to be fact.

In my opening illustration I gave a larger-than-life example—breaking a world record—but let’s make this more accessible.

  1. Personally – have you been inhibited by the artificial boundaries set by your upbringing, environment, or friends? I grew up in a low socio-economical culture; it took years for me to think outside that box.   
  2. Professionally – are you in a small box with a low ceiling? Rethink your career aspirations. Years ago, my daughter was in a dead-end job in Dallas so, in a bold and audacious move, she moved to New York City, enrolled in a master’s program at Columbia, and got a job at American Express.
  3. Organizationally – does your group ever challenge the status quo? When was the last time you challenged your team to excel?

Using these three categories, list three areas of your life in which you might suffer under the yoke of “it’s never been done before” or “only exceptional people can do that.” And then dream about how to make progress in each area. You might not get into the Guinness Book of World Records, but you’ll exceed your current level.

Here’s a video of Guerrouj setting a new record in the mile-run.

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

I’m hosting a trip to Peru, May 6-15, 2020. It will be limited to 50 travelers. Here’s the brochure. On Saturday, May 18, 2019 from 4:00-5:00, I’m hosting a free information meeting for anyone who wants more details about the trip. It will be held in the DFW metroplex and broadcast live on Facebook for those who live elsewhere. If you want to attend, email me at djmcminn@msn.com or respond to this blot post.