The Culture of Good Enough

Brass Tack Thinking - The Culture of Good EnoughHow have we lost our passion for going above and beyond?

I refuse to accept that we never had it to begin with. In fact, I see glimmers of it around me every day, and I also see earth-moving, seismic examples that rock the foundations of what *I* think and feel, even if the acts themselves are rather subtle. It takes a single pebble to trigger a landslide, and oh the pebbles we’re surrounded by each and every day if we would only pick one up and toss it.

But by and large, I see a lot of people mailing it in. Ready to get by. Satisfied with acceptable. Content to check the box. Making excuses for why they could do it, didn’t have time, were at the mercy of everyone else. And then waiting, hand out, for a cookie for doing their level “good enough”.

We want expectations spelled out for us, to the letter, so we can be sure and meet them. Meet them. Not exceed them, not blow them out of the water. But meet them. How did this happen, and why aren’t we demanding more? If we aren’t willing to motivate ourselves to bring our best – whatever that means – who will? Is it really someone else’s job to inspire us, or is it our own responsibility to not settle for something that isn’t the best we can give? Why is it not enough to demand more simply because we are worthy of discovering our best and most unadulterated selves?

Waiting for validation, waiting for someone else to spark our drive is such an utter waste.

This isn’t about not failing. It’s about failing gloriously, in a shower of sparks and flame and triumph for having the stones to actually shoot for something that isn’t comfortable, safe, predictable, or guaranteed. It’s about failing with purpose because you decided that what was easy simply wasn’t good enough.

Those that change the world, even a small little sliver of it, never settle for “good enough”. They’re always hungrily, relentlessly curious and trying to find what’s beyond where they are. They’re pushing their own comfort zone, finding new territories to explore, all while making sure that the things that are expected of them now are not just “done” but shattered.

Waiting for something to happen is cowardly. I challenge you to be inspired. To be brave enough to let go of your own malaise and realize that responsibility for your own impact on the world rests solely with you, and that your malcontent, not-my-fault ennui is something that may have been exacerbated at the hand of others, but over which you are the sole master.

Take ideas and shape them, push them, build on them. Create something totally new, or improve on something that’s already there. Choose your path and walk it, and reserve the right to select a new one. Ask for success, demand the world, insist on nothing less than revolution.

But never, ever sit and ask for the hammer yet whine that no one else drove the nail.

Never lament the fact that you never get to contribute to something worthwhile or incredible if you aren’t willing to be the exciting and incredible part of the equation. Revolt against the culture of “good enough”. It’s far too common. And I know you – you – are better than that. As for the rest of us? We are not waiting for you.

I’m going to go toss a pebble and break something. Coming along?

image credit: AndYaDontStop

  • http://marybiever.wordpress.com Mary Biever

    Wow! Sounds like Reepicheep’s manifesto in Narnia. Go for the gusto, the road less travelled, and make all the difference!

  • http://49pixels.ca/ Justin Kozuch

    As usual, you’ve nailed it Amber. I’m growing rather weary of people doing the same things, talking about the same things and congratulating each other for nothing more than mediocre achievements.I wish more people would push the envelope and take bigger risks instead of just settling for “good enough.” I also wish more people would push each other to try harder and inspire each other to go that extra mile. Naive, I know… but I’ve still got some hope.Thanks for sharing this.

  • Kim Patrick Kobza

    Well said! Is related to people being commentators/observers vs. actors. Many more commentators today than ever before.

  • Tom Brauch

    amen sister!

  • http://www.sitesketch101.com Nicholas Z. Cardot

    I never played sports much in school but I had a lot of friends who did. As I observed them playing, I often saw heard some of the players complaining because they never got the ball but as I watched, they weren’t the ones that were chasing rebounds, aggressively defending their zones or really turning up the heat on their competition. Their strategy was just to try to get open and hope that someone else would believe in them and give them a chance. Those people who were getting up in the faces, who were getting as close to fouling as possible without actually fouling (most of the time), and who were aggressive and determined, they were the ones making the plays.

    In this regard, I believe that life is very similar to the realm of sports. Those who get aggressive and go after success with every fiber of their being are the ones who finally achieve it. Those who ‘accidentally’ stumble upon their success are the exception to the rule…not the standard.

    And in life, I don’t think that it matters what your skill set is. When you get that drive and that passion that you talk about above, it will fuel your pursuit of new skills, of new ways to network, of new ways to accomplish great things, and of new, greater things to accomplish.

    You’ve got a terrific article here and the level of motivation that you carry just bleeds through in every word. Thank you.

    • http://rickcaffeinated.com Rick Stilwell

      Love the sports analogy – spot on with that one.

  • http://twitter.com/FitNowStephanie Stephanie Hodges

    Thank you, this is awesome! It is so easy to look around and compare to others and think, “I’m doing OK.” But truly, we have to keep our focus on the highest standard, and nobody else can do that for us.

  • http://twitter.com/deonnekahler Deonne Kahler

    Amber! I love the way you think. Yes, I’d much rather go big and risk flaming out trying to make a difference, rather than playing it safe and just getting by. Thanks for the morning inspiration.

  • Jen Zingsheim

    I think this might be the reason why for some: http://www.fsu.com/News/Americans-rethinking-role-of-work-amid-painful-recession-says-researcher

    It’s understandable, I think. I don’t settle for okay or passable, but I think there are very, very many people who are simply tired. Taking big risks goes hand in hand with people feeling confident enough to take the risk–and right now, after so much economic upheaval, people feel uncertain–they want to be safe.

    There is a difference in doing just what it takes to get by and having the confidence to take the big risks. I’m sympathetic to those who have trouble with the later, not so much with the former.

  • http://twitter.com/jonmikelbailey Jon-Mikel Bailey

    I love this! It is so true and so important – especially in the current business climate. I am always a believer in doing what you love, mostly because you will do it well and not just phone it in. Passion breed creativity and innovation. It is the American way! AND ITS FUN! Thanks Amber, I am motivated now to go do something exceptional!

  • http://rickcaffeinated.com Rick Stilwell

    Still working on my “20 truths” list to post, and one of them goes something like this:
    “It’s easy to teach a child the difference between right and wrong. It’s harder to teach the difference between good enough and better.” Thanks for your timely encouragement along those lines. “Failing gloriously in a hail of sparks” is such a noble goal.

  • http://blog.esimplestudios.com Gabriele Maidecchi

    “Only those who risk going far find out how far they can go”

    Kudos to who gets the source without Googling it.

  • http://twitter.com/SLDMorgan Shannon Morgan

    Ouch! But exactly what I needed to hear.

  • Lee

    “Good enough” is the C student. Strive for more. I have two teenage sons, and I told them that if they just do what is expected of them, then they’ll be ahead of 90% of their peers–how sad! Dream big. Dare to be different. Make an impact!

  • Anonymous

    Make It Happen!

  • http://twitter.com/stevebellnow Steve Bell

    Amber – spot on. All too often we see the coach or manager to blame for the short comings or better yet – the minimum acceptable.

    Look at the Dallas Cowboys situation. Fire the coach (he may have had something to do with it) but the players play. Watching them the past couple of games almost just go through the motions – speaks to your post. Look at the tiff between Favre and Childress. Higher ground was given to Favre as he says this is about him doing his best. He controls it and that is his focus.

    I see many new managers falling into the trap of providing the exact expectations and not leaving the door open and demanding more. Setting expectations is a good foundations but expect above average for pete’s sake.

    Thanks

  • Anonymous

    I highly recommend Dan Pink’s book Drive. Yes, we own our motivation, but our management systems discourage self-motivation. We get bonuses for hitting, not vendors shattering, pre-conceived goals. These goals, hatched one day in January, are not innovative or uplifting. We aren’t given time to wander outside the box. Don’t get me wrong — your article is a well-deserved kick in the pants. But those of us responsible for management need to make our structures foster intrinsic motivation.

  • Jfisk

    Love it Amber. Your latest rant has reminded me that I’m not crazy, over-motivated, or too passionate. Thank you.

  • http://www.bethrobinson.me/ Beth Robinson

    I find the idea of blowing expectations out of the water inspiring but unless I’m in long-term goal setting mode thinking about trying to do whatever it is above and beyond makes me freeze up. It’s like a bell ringing to inspire self-doubt and overthink.

    Yet if I focus on doing it better than I did last time or better than it was before or better than the decent job I saw over there, then I can accomplish really good stuff.

    And if I plan well or it’s something I’m doing more than once then there will be a chance to do it again. And again. And iterate my way to skills or projects that look above and beyond. Or at least that’s the feedback I sometimes get.

    This doesn’t work all the time, of course. Sometimes I have to take the big risk and just accept it will really hurt if I fall flat. Sometimes I have to rethink the entire framework.

    But on a day to day basis the concreteness of “better” is more effective for me than “out of this world.”

  • http://www.bethrobinson.me/ Beth Robinson

    I find the idea of blowing expectations out of the water inspiring but unless I’m in long-term goal setting mode thinking about trying to do whatever it is above and beyond makes me freeze up. It’s like a bell ringing to inspire self-doubt and overthink.

    Yet if I focus on doing it better than I did last time or better than it was before or better than the decent job I saw over there, then I can accomplish really good stuff.

    And if I plan well or it’s something I’m doing more than once then there will be a chance to do it again. And again. And iterate my way to skills or projects that look above and beyond. Or at least that’s the feedback I sometimes get.

    This doesn’t work all the time, of course. Sometimes I have to take the big risk and just accept it will really hurt if I fall flat. Sometimes I have to rethink the entire framework.

    But on a day to day basis the concreteness of “better” is more effective for me than “out of this world.”

  • Anonymous

    Inspiring writing, helping me get through a very tired Friday.

    As a perfectionist myself who has a very hard time shutting the computer and having my own life every night, my question is, where do we draw the line between ambition and happiness? Passion and sanity?

    I’m lucky enough to have a job that I enjoy, and which fits in with my personal goals and ambitions. I think a huge part of the “good enough” situation is how quickly we try to force success through–how young people are shepherded from the most prestigious high school possible, to the most prestigious college possible, to the most prestigious and high paying job possible. Somewhere along the line, what people actually want to do, and are passionate about, gets lost in the mix. So in a way, the more people push themselves to success without taking the time to step back and think, to make sure they’re pursuing the right goals for them, the easier it is to get stuck being good enough.

  • http://www.accuconference.com Maranda Gibson

    Amen!

    We’re so willing to just “accept” the norm and standards. I think a lot of lose focus that the way to drive innovation is to do more than just was is expected. By just sitting on our hands, we don’t ask for anything more, and we don’t make anything better — like it could be.

  • http://twitter.com/zunaid zunaid khan

    Wow, what an awesome post, love it

  • http://squarejawmedia.com/ Brian McDonald

    I agree with you that making it great and not good comes from within and is fueled by passion and desire to create something you’re proud of. The culture of cranking out “whatever” can be attributed to corporate culture and leadership. If you get paid the same no matter what our your bonus is based on some half assed grade point average and the admin assistant gets the biggest bonus when ranked then how hard will you work? I’ve seen this happen many times in companies I’ve worked at.

    At the same time I’ve worked for perfectionist that can’t stop asking if the question can we do better and the project never gets done or good enough for them. This can lead to analysis paralysis and kills team moral and motivation. You have to be able to know when to draw the line and it depends on the project, it’s impact and several other factors. Leadership and ownership are key as well as having the stones as you put it.

    Like being a baseball umpire you have to stand behind your call and take good with the bad and plan out realistic expectations and deliverables so that you know when it’s done and done well. Keep up the good fight Amber!

  • http://www.sheila0gh.wordpress.com Sheila Gallant-Halloran

    When I worked in an office environment, doing more than was expected meant you were a sucker. You only raised the level of expectation, and got the same pay. Thrilled to say that as an entrepreneur, doing more than was expected means the difference betwen getting by and thriving.

  • Serina

    Wow, Amber! Great stuff here and so on target! Sometimes I find myself as a business owner and even as just a human showing the characteristics of approval-seeking or having the fear of failure, but then knowing it’s really all up to me.

    I just listened to The Strangest Secret – a short 39 minute audio book from way back in the day, which was full of great quotes. My favorite – “opposite of courage in our society is not cowardness, but conformity.” So freakin’ true, it’s scary!

    You nailed it, lady! Thanks for the awesome read!

  • Jaime H

    I only hope the “Why me” sub-culture get it Amber. It was a pleasure reading your post and a great way to start my day.

    Thanks!!

  • http://twitter.com/Lara_John J. Lara Johnson

    Wow – Thank you for the reminder, Amber! It reminds me of a poem I had to memorize years ago in my 10th grade speech class called “Beware of Good Enough” (http://buriedtreasurebooks.com/weblog/?p=1171). I know you’re busy, but definitely worth the read!! In the drudgery of work days, this poem still comes to mind as it echoes what you shared in your post. Again, thank you!

  • http://www.linkama.com/ Kimmo Linkama

    Sorry to be the dissenting voice. Yes, I know you mean we shouldn’t accept a sloppy performance, but for the most time, good enough is just that. If it does its job, why use all the unnecessary energy for perfectionism? I wrote about the same topic recently in my blog at http://ow.ly/39lub if you’re interested.

  • http://green9media.com/ Glenn Friesen

    Personally, I think every business scientist (Taylorist) should start a band, or collaborative creative effort with public peer review… doing so might just tear down all the business school programming conditioning you to believe in the values of heirarchy… #justsayin

  • http://intrinsicalities.blogspot.com/ Jennifer Hohn

    Beautiful manifesto. Good enough is ignored or forgotten. Always.

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  • Guest

    Yes and no. Ambition and challenge are wonderful things. But I think we also desperately need a culture of “good enough”. Of learning to be content with what we have, of not always wanting more. There’s nothing wrong with being average.