aim for good

aim for good

unlike this cannon, which was aimed at union soldiers

I heard this idea at a coaching conference a year or so ago (thus my vague attribution – I don’t actually remember who said it), in a talk about powerful questions. Coaches spend most of their time listening and understanding, and use questions to help spark insight. What do you think happens when a coach sits and waits for the perfect question, the perfect phrasing?

Nothing. The moment passes. The coach loses connection with the person or team, because she’s stopped listening. Coaches have to aim for good questions, not great ones, because in shooting for great, we miss and don’t do anything.

Has this happened to you?

It happened to a team I observed a few weeks ago. They’re a software development team planning the next release of one module of a system. What they’re building is quite different from what they’ve built before – it’s challenging to figure out. Aaaaand… they got stuck. They got stuck on figuring out the perfect way to break up one small part that they actually understand pretty well. Then they got stuck in a semantic argument about the meaning of words about that same piece of work. These are smart people, and they stalled for an entire day on one thing… one thing that will probably change in another day or so.

They made so much more progress & such better decisions – they got much closer to perfect – once they let go of perfection and decided to be happy with “good enough” instead.

I think we all start to believe that there’s one perfectly right answer to every question, and we can stall just like this when we try to get our work exactly right. You’ve probably heard the Voltaire quote “The perfect is the enemy of the good”. Same idea. Fixate on doing a thing just right, more often then not, and you won’t get it done at all.

This doesn’t mean that all pursuit of awesomeness is useless! Ironically, the best way to let awesome emerge is to get out of the way. We aim for good to make room for amazing.

Today’s photo was taken in high wind, crouched in front of an aged cannon, squinting against the sunlight with one eye watching out for airport security types and my probably-illegally-parked car. I think it’s good enough.

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  1. Posted May 10, 2012 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

    I love the “aim for good” advice. I hate the perfect getting in the way of the good. What this made me think of, though, was a meeting I attended yesterday which made me really frustrated. A small cabal of people had made a decision I strongly disagreed with, and they peppered me with the “aim for good” and “you have to start somewhere” message.

    What made me angry is that the decision under discussion is one I have been trying to influence for months. After getting stonewalled for a really long time, now at the meeting I hear “we have to start somewhere, so we’re just going to stop the conversation and start here.” It’s not like we had a conversation though. I doubt you would call that “aiming for good,” but I’m struggling with a framework to help me wrap my head around the situation.

    So my question is this: what do you think about where you would draw the line between “aim for good” and “shutting down principled dissent”? Is it a meta-problem where the group hasn’t jelled well enough to be able to reach a consensus? It’s certainly hard for me to believe my further input will be considered either, so the “aim for good” may be incorrect in this case because it seems to be “aim for good and don’t change.” I don’t know. Sorry to rant.

    • Posted May 10, 2012 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

      I think the key, for me, is the last sentence in my original post: we don’t aim for good to get people to shut the hell up; we aim for good because we know that talking and fussing doesn’t allow space for amazing to emerge.

      So maybe that’s the test: are we making this decision because we’re tired, or are we making this decision to make room for the next opportunity for greatness?

  2. Posted May 10, 2012 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

    Did that group of people actually aim? It sounds as though they waited just a bit longer than was really responsible to make a decision, and were then feeling rushed and just fired off a decision right away. Admittedly, it can be good enough to fire before aiming, right? If you can move fast enough to reflect, aim and fire again immediately.

    In your position, I might take the decision to act as a good sign, though. What can you do to embrace the desire to take action, then make sure that reflection and (if needed) re-aiming happens after this first step? Can you capitalize on their sudden momentum and help them expect to “aim for good and then aim again” instead of “…and don’t change”?

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