Taking part in a recent event, one of the speaker at a certain point mentioned a sentence that made me think. We need to have the courage to settle for Good Enough Results sometime. Good Enough seems a sentence that underpins a failure, not reaching results. But this is only apparent. We indeed need to accept that we can’t be on top of performance every day. We can’t exceed expectations always. So I embarked in quick research to see if there is something more around this concept. And have found extensive research and contents.
Good Enough in Parenthood
In psychology, the concept of Good Enough was brought into prominence by the paediatric psychiatrist D.W. Winnicott as he developed the concept of Good Enough Mother. He researched the development of babies and emphasised the role of the mother (or the primary caregiver in her absence). He stressed that fact that mothers don’t need to be perfect. Babies have developed to be able to mature and also survive despite some shortcomings in their parents. So Mothers need only to be good enough to reach this objective.
Good Enough in Technology
The basics of this concept have now been applied also in other contexts. For example, The Principle of Good Enough is a foundational concept in Software Development, when we think about the idea of a Minimum Viable Product. But even before Agile became mainstream, a lot of the technology innovations that power the internet, are based on initial releases that were “Good Enough”: Linux, TCP/IP, SMTP etc.
Another area where the principle of Good Enough is acquired is Medicine. The general public thinks that physicians need to be perfect in their job. However, it is known in the medical community that under many circumstances, Doctors need to save patients, even without pursuing perfection. The entire concept of Emergency Medicine is based on this. In emergencies, there’s no time to pursue perfection.
The problem with Good enough is that we often associate this with a mediocre output. In our culture, with its focus on excellence and perfection, good enough is usually considered not enough. We should not confuse good enough with merely good.
To claim that any given thing is good enough is to agree with all of the following statements:
- There are sufficient benefits.
- There are no critical problems.
- The benefits sufficiently outweigh the problems.
- In the present situation, and all things considered, further improvement would be more harmful than helpful.
If the above is correct, then Good Enough should be the benchmark of our performance, mainly when the relationship is at stake.
The Good Enough Manager
Can this be applied also in management? I truly think so. The reality of imperfection applies to all human relationships, and accepting this can also benefit management. You have to design structures that have much give, for when people screw up. You have to satisfice, which is Herbert Simon’s term for any option that is not optimal but happens to work well enough. Aaron Nurick, a professor of Management and Psychology at Bentley University and author of The Good Enough Manager: The Making of a GEM, found out that the best managers find a way to stay in the space between too much control and too much autonomy.
A Good Enough Manager adapts his behavior to facilitate employee autonomy, all while providing well-structured parameters.Aaron Nurick, Good Enough Can Be Great
Nurick also points, in a 2011 article, that there are several attributes that Good Enough Managers have. Let’s see them:
What great Good-Enough Managers do:
- Embrace the role of teacher and mentor
- Get to know your employees as individuals
- Help employees find strengths they may not immediately see
- Allow the freedom to fail and learn from mistakes
What Great Good-Enough managers do not do:
- Interfere with employee autonomy
- Put employees down to portray yourself in a positive light
- Partake in destructive office gossip or politics
- Forget that your employees are people with their own lives and agendas
We then really cross the boundaries between Management and Leadership here, as per the definition of Gurnek Bains.
Good Enough leadership is based on empowerment and facilitation rather than control. Instead of a laissez-faire orientation, Good Enough is about respect and humility. Critically, Good Enough is as much an underlying attitude as it is a set of behaviours.Gurnek Bains Good Enough Leadership
A concept we have also discovered when we have seen the relationship between Leadership and Jazz (further explored in the book Yes to the Mess I’ve just reviewed). Each Jam Session is good enough because it can be improved or simply done differently. Improvisation is about being invariably Good Enough. But I will come back on this topic in a book review soon.
In a moment when we talk more and more about Agile, being “Good Enough” is a valuable principle to follow. It’s not about settling for lower standards; it’s about setting a goal and levelling to it. It’s about getting the priorities straight. A lesson that for me is especially important for HR as a Professional Family: we’re often too concentrate on our functional perfection, forgetting that we need to deal with human relationships and culture.
I see this also genuinely linked to the Skills we need to build for the Future of Work. Authenticity, Listening, Curiosity, Learning Agility, Resilience all have at the core the concept that we’re not perfect. Pursuing a Good Enough path means leaving room for continuous improvement.
Because the truth is that human imperfection is only a problem when it is denied.
And you? Do you have what it takes to be Good Enough?