A Clean Towel is a Clean Towel

Last week I came across a post by Emily Clasper about her life as an overachiever and her realization that not everyone shares her passion to be the best. I really appreciated her enthusiasm and her positvie approach. But, like some others that read her post, I found the tone of some of her comments to be condescending, “The world (and that includes LibraryWorld!) needs people who don’t necessarily want to be the best. In fact, that’s very beneficial to those of us who do.” But more than that, I was struck by how out of step this was with the discussions in the circles that I move. In the blogs I read and on the email lists I subscribe to, the talk is more frequently about letting go of the idea of getting things perfect.

Wikipedia says the Principle of Good Enough “is a rule for software and systems design. It favours quick-and-simple (but potentially extensible) designs over elaborate systems designed by committees.” But the principle can be applied in areas beyond systems design. If something is “good enough” then it serves it purpose, so we need to look at what is gained or lost by going beyond the requirements. Of course, there are many times that we want to excel beyond the requirements; whether it’s to stand out among the competition, because of individual pride, to anticipate future needs, etc. But that needs to be weighed against what is lost:

  • Is the time and effort put into being the best worth the improvement? What’s the Return on Investment (ROI)?
  • Are you alienating your coworkers?
  • Are you missing another opportunity while you are putting your effort into this project?
  • How do you know when you’ve reached the best? Isn’t there always room for improvement?
  • What about projects that fall short of the best? What happens to them?

I recently read a management article (don’t remember where) about applying the POGE, that had excellent example that I’m sure we are all familiar with. We have all had the experience of sending some text to colleagues or supervisors for feedback and having it come back marked up in red ink, highlighting minor errors that are at best grammatical changes, but more frequently, they are style changes. I know because I do it myself. You assume, they asked me to look at it, they must want my opinion. But unless you have something to say that is going to make a significant difference in the outcome of the message, it is always best to let the author know that is it fine. In most cases that’s all they wanted, reassurance.

Emily quotes Seth Godin, the author of The Dip, as saying, “People settle. They settle for less than they are capable of. Organizations settle, too. For good enough instead of best in the world.” However, even Seth Godin admits that sometimes good enough is, in fact, good enough and “a clean towel is a clean towel“.