Rita Gunther McGrath, author of The End of Competitive Advantage:
How to Keep Your Strategy Moving as Fast as Your Business, introduces a passage about when—and when not—to demand excellence from Tipping Sacred Cows: Kick the Bad Work Habits That Masquerade as Virtues, by Jake Breeden.
I apologize to Rita for quoting her entire statement but it is very important to have a corporate culture that embraces uncertainty and has the tools in place to manage it.
“Don’t bring me any surprises. Don’t bring me a problem without a solution.” Do these phrases sound familiar? They are manifestations of a managerial mind-set that Jake Breeden rightly calls out in his new book, Tipping Sacred Cows, as an unhealthy obsession with excellence. The demand that employees get everything right is deadly for innovation, experimentation, and discovery. When excellence is defined as living in a world of no surprises, you aren’t going to get any…until it’s too late.
For innovation to thrive, you need a little messiness, a tolerance for intelligent failures, and a willingness to engage in trial-and-error learning. As the Lean Startup movement is proving, you’ll discover more from launching a “minimum viable product” than you will from conducting seemingly endless prelaunch analyses. When it comes to communicating your ideas, you’ll make a bigger splash with a quick, colorful story, replete with mistakes, than a thick deck of perfectly formatted PowerPoint slides. And when it comes to keeping people energized and engaged, you’ll get much better results by focusing their creativity on a few key things than by cajoling them to be excellent at thousands of small ones. Breeden’s advice for making a conscious decision about where excellence matters and where it doesn’t is extraordinarily pertinent.