In a piece about the American education system and the perception that it was mediocre, Dr Bruce Lockerbie wrote a piece explaining why he thought that this wasn’t so. He listed the students that were taught by teachers who were assisted by support staff assisted by manufacturers, writers and editors who were assisted by policy- and law-makers and money. Each flea had a smaller flea, as they say. Each of those supporters were, or were the responsibility of, individuals. He concluded:
“Schools aren’t mediocre, but some of us who are administrators or teachers, and our students, have been half-hearted about our management, our teaching, their learning. You see, mediocrity is first a personal trait, a personal concession to less than our best, an individual lethargic resignation that says, “I guess good enough is good enough.” Soon, mediocrity metastasises throughout the body politic, causing the nation to be at risk; but always remember – mediocrity begins with ME!”
In the main, we all want to do a great job. We want our performance to be above reproach and our results to reflect the effort we put into our work, our relationships, our very lives. So why is it that we eventually resign ourselves to being and doing less than we are capable of?
We make excuses.
In fairness, those excuses can be quite valid, to some extent. We try hard, bash our heads repeatedly against rules, regulations, other peoples’ objections, obstructions and obfuscation and City Hall, and eventually we are beaten into thinking “I guess good enough is good enough.”*
Occasionally, the availability of time and materiel impact on our efforts and we do the best we can with the time and resources available – which I consider a valid ‘good enough’ – but now feel guilty that we couldn’t do better. In my own line of work, our effectiveness in terms of client service is often frustrated by the clients themselves, who kick off a process and then step back and absolve themselves of further responsibility despite an explicit need for their further involvement.
Sometimes, however, even as we say them silently to ourselves, we know that the excuse we are making is exactly that – a statement designed to excuse a temporary unwillingness to put a piece of ourselves into something which may increase our workload. Sometimes it is because we know that we are metaphorically digging a hole with the sole intention of merely filling it again. We see no conceivable result at the end of our toil, just the toil itself.
I don’t have ‘the’ answer, and I am certainly guilty of having such thoughts from time to time. But I do have ‘an’ answer.
Stephen Covey opined that ‘the enemy of the best is the good’. Therefore, my advice to you and to me is to just try harder to make the effort to be better than mediocre. It may seem pointless in the moment to strive for a particular outcome, but that striving is a way of learning to do it better, faster, and even cheaper next time. It serves creation of our own system, which in turn can help create a standard that others can follow, to the benefit of all. That’s all Three Resolutions in action.
Why do you think software keeps developing? It’s because someone has discovered, possibly through frustration, that there is a better or more complete way to achieve a digital outcome.
My advice, dear reader, is – don’t be mediocre, be the best you can be all of the time. Or at least try. Even if you don’t quite hit perfection you’ll be a lot closer than you were. And a lot better than ‘good enough’.
A LOT better.
*The funny thing is that those people who browbeat and have their own sense of ‘good enough’ for their work expect you to maintain an excellent performance to which they sweetly avoid committing when it comes to their own roles.