July 25

“Fame can take interesting men and thrust mediocrity upon them.” – David Bowie

Don’t fall prey to the tyranny of the adequate.

What’s the greatest barrier to brilliant work?

Is it fear? Lack of time or resources? Confusion?

All of these contribute to one degree or another. I’ve written a ton about each of them. However, there’s one word that I think better stands as the bastion of mediocrity in many workplaces: adequacy.

“That’s close enough.”

“Seems acceptable.”

“That will sell-in.”

Since most of us are being tasked with making more out of less, the first or most reasonable answer is the one that lets us move on the the next project as quickly as we can. We equate moving simply through our work with actual progress.

Frankly, this isn’t always the wrong strategy. Sometimes adequate is appropriate. However, not as often as we likely employ it.

Why do we settle so easily?

Mind-numbing repetition. When your work is highly repetitive, it’s easy to succumb to a sense that you’re being carried along by your work rather than driving it. (Why put yourself fully into this project when there’s another similar one coming along tomorrow?) The counter-strategy is to make sure that you have clearly defined edges for your work (objective and defined success criteria) so that you don’t drift with the tide.

Fuzzy boundaries and definition. When accountability is lacking, it’s easy to let someone else make the bold decisions. If you want to have a culture in which everyone reaches for brilliance, each person must feel accountable for the end result of the work.

Lack of a through-line. Finally, if you tasks lack “connective tissue” to tie them all together into a greater sense of purpose, it’s easy to lose your passion. Try as much as you can to understand the context of your work, and to tie it back into the overall “why” of your role and your organization.

Don’t fall prey to the tyranny of the adequate. Sure, there are times when it’s wise to settle for the most reasonable answer, but don’t allow the daily grind to lull you into mediocrity.

Question: Is there a place in your work where you are just settling? What should you do about it?

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