There are two camps of thought when it comes to success. They both work, although differently. The problem is that they don’t mix well, and you should figure out which you are and who you work with when it comes to excellence vs. good enough.
A Game of Heroes
When I’m trying to find a few minutes to wind down and de-stress, I often play a game called “Heroes of the Storm”. It’s a computer game where you play as one of about 6 dozen heroes with special skills and abilities. You are on a team of 5 against another team of 5. Your goal is to destroy their “base” (known as a core in the game) before they destroy yours.
In this game I’ve become quite addicted to the Brawl mode. In this mode, 10 people are selected at random to play as two teams. You are given a choice of 3 random heroes instead of all 6 dozen.
What I’ve found in playing this mode is that there are two styles of play: aggressive and cautious. Now, just like anything you can go overboard on either. Play too aggressively and you get killed. Play too cautiously and you get pushed back to your core and lose the game.
Yet in the middle of the spectrum, those two styles of play battle it out, and how the teams are grouped makes a huge difference on how successful they are. This bears a striking resemblance to excellence vs. good enough.
Well Matched vs. Mismatched
Putting a group of like-minded people together is a recipe for success. if everyone is aggressive, they can work cohesively as a unit and push the other team back quite easily. If everyone is cautious, they can stand their ground and wait for opportunities to take out one or two of the other team and put the odds in their favor.
At the same time, these play styles don’t play well together. If some of the group is cautious and some is aggressive, a couple of the players might run out and attack while everyone else stays behind. This results in a fight that turns 5 vs. 5 to 5 vs. 2 creating terrible odds and a sure defeat.
This matching reminds me of two people and their view on excellence vs. good enough.
At my last job I worked with a guy who had a mantra that “great is the enemy of good enough”. His point was that people that strive for excellence often stumble simply trying to get things working. Instead of making 2 or 3 things work, people spend too much time making a single thing great.
It was a saying I really didn’t like. It’s not that it was a bad idea to be satisfied with good work; it’s that you could never do anything to make the work better, only things that kept the lights on where you might have to come revisit it later.
Steve Jobs on the other hand used to be strongly focused on excellence. He would review a lot of design elements personally, harkening back to a time when he was a boy and his father told him to paint the fence.
According to Walter Isaacson, the person who wrote Steve Jobs’ official biography, this incident left an indelible impression on Jobs. His father said, “You’ve got to make the back of the fence, that nobody will see, just as good looking as the front of the fence.” Isaacson continued, “Even though nobody will see it, you will know, and that will show that you’re dedicated to making something perfect.”
Steve Jobs once said, “Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.”
Excellence vs. Good Enough
These two camps – excellence vs. good enough – can define you greatly, but what’s more important is working with people who share your values.
In the game Heroes of the Storm, I find that those who play aggressively – not too much but just enough – will almost always defeat those who are cautious. At the same time, I find those who are mismatched will almost always lose to those who are matched well, regardless of if they are matched cautiously or aggressively.
In the business world, it’s different. There are a lot of moving parts and having people that are aggressive and people who are cautious help to minimize risks and maximize returns.
But having a mix of those who strive for excellence and those who are happy with good enough will lead to chaos and poor results.
Picking Your Camp
The real question comes down to which camp you want to be in. Do you just want to keep the lights on and have a paycheck? Then you want to be part of the camp that’s good enough. Do you want to do something amazing that feels like you just watched history in the making? Then you’ll want to focus on excellence.
Here’s the thing: good enough will do well. It’s tried and true. It’s been around for a long time. But it will be kicked out of the water by excellence when everyone on the team is working together.
But if you are mismatched, your good enough will make you feel worthless and unhappy when you’re in an environment of excellence. And if you love excellence, being asked to do good enough will always leave you empty feeling like you’re often trying to pull people along just to be prepared for the future.
Pick your camp well, because you need to be in the right one. Where do you want to be: where excellence is expected or where just doing the minimum is good enough?