Appearing in In The Black magazine, August 2019
Ish: The Problem with Our Pursuit for Perfection and the Life-Changing Practice of Good Enough
By Lynne Cazaly
Woodslane, $25, 252 pages
At first glance this book appears to be merely enjoyably eccentric but a deeper look shows that it has some interesting, important points to make. Cazaly, a business adviser and facilitator, believes that a key problem with the modern world is the search for perfection, and it is making us both stressed and unproductive. In most cases that we encounter, she says, it is fine to be good enough – good-ish, in a word.
She is not saying that we should do everything (or anything) in a slapdash, half-hearted way. Instead, we should invest some time working out what our real priorities are, and which things need to be done perfectly. In fact, if we constantly search for perfection, whether in choosing what shoes to buy or writing a memo, we will probably accomplish very little. In business, it can make more sense to put the Minimum Viable Product version into the marketplace and improve it in later iterations than wait until every bug is fixed. Learn, evolve, and accept that every creative process has its shortcomings.
So do less but choose the right things to do, and how to do them. It might not be a perfect message but it is, well, quite good enough.
How Could This Happen? Managing Errors in Organizations
Edited by Jan Hagen
Palgrave Macmillan, $95, 292 pages
Hagen, a Berlin-based academic who specialises in error analysis, has brought together a wide-ranging collection of essays looking at how mistakes occur in organisations and, perhaps more importantly, what can be done to prevent a recurrence. The first part provides a series of theoretical examinations, looking at how rigid business culture can prevent the proper reporting of problems – the Fukushima reactor disaster is an example. Some analysts look at the requirements of effective reporting systems, including people at the operational level knowing they can report concerns without fear of retribution. Strict hierarchy systems, with the person at the top assumed to be infallible, also need to be broken down.
Several essays look at the Crew Resource Management system now used in the aviation industry, which has dramatically reduced the incidence of errors. Other essays examine changes in medical diagnoses, where a team-based approach has proven effective. The best place to start developing an error reporting system is with early training, as an interesting piece on the Israeli Air Force shows. There also needs to be a mechanism for clear-minded analysis of the causes of the error in the first place.
We all make mistakes, says Hagen. The real issue is what we learn from them.
Exceptional Leadership by Design: How Design in Great Organizations Produces Great Leadership
By Rob Elkington, Madeleine van der Steege, Judith Glick-Smith and Jennifer Moss Breen
Emerald Publishing, $57, 311 pages
This collection of essays covers a great deal of ground but the common theme is that outstanding leadership is the result of a deliberate process of thinking about how to do the job. The place to start is defining the problem to be solved, and then marshalling the necessary personal and organisation resources. A leader has to be willing to honestly evaluate their strengths and weaknesses, and must be humble enough to ask for help when it is needed. Several essays make the point, drawing on examples and anecdotes, that great leadership is not about individual charisma but about collaboration, the building of relationships, and ongoing learning. This last point is critical: an exceptional leader has to design their job to include self-reflection and feedback.
An important contribution argues that a good way to find solutions is through prototyping. Small-scale test runs, gaming, and extended thought exercises can be useful tools, as long as there is honest follow-up and analysis. Prototyping can even show that you are asking the wrong question, and re-framing is called for. Again, the leader has to accept that they might not have all the answers. And acceptance of that might, in the end, be the most crucial lesson of all.