A Project Manager’s Game Plan for Dealing with Incurable Cancer
Segment Twenty-Nine- You Could Do a Better Job, But at What Cost?
When it comes to your life, rarely do you simply want it to be “good enough.” But maybe it’s time to dust the taint off “good enough,” and celebrate it instead. At age 11, my dentist suggested that my teeth were not perfectly aligned, and should be corrected with braces. This announcement came after three years of wearing a retainer every night. My parents, surprisingly, left the decision up to me. I declared my existing dental alignment “good enough.”
In developing training materials, we were on a tight deadline for one of our biggest clients when the instructional systems designers came back with a lengthy list of critiques on how to improve the content. My boss, Ed (best boss I ever had), came back with I looked it over and it looks good enough.
Time and again, in our quest for the perfect answer, we feel that accepting good enough is somehow compromising quality and surrendering the best possible outcome. In my current condition, I feel uniquely poised to declare that that perspective is crap.
My radiation oncologist received word that he would be participating in a brand-new clinical trial related to my tumors. I, of course, became very excited for yet another course of treatment that could further drive my cancer into the background. Let me stress that I have been doing yard work, sleeping soundly and eating well for months now. I’ve written a book (PMI-RMP® Risk Management Professional Cert Guide, Pearson, 2023), built a stone wall, and survived innumerable chemo sessions with aplomb. Now I was presented with the possibility of yet another treatment that might stretch my life expectancy well into my 80s (I’m in my 60s right now). My oncologist ultimately determined that I’m doing good enough.
HEY! This is my life here!
I am so grateful to the man for that determination. In all of my treatments, there have been periods of adjustment. And there is always the potential for setbacks and negative reactions. He knew that. He knew that I should be thrilled that in the past two years I’ve gone from death’s door to good enough. Realistically, if you had asked me two years ago, I would have told you that good enough was an elusive dream, never to be achieved.
Lesson Learned: A young friend of mine, Brad, with four young children has a phenomenally successful business practice. He’s also a perfectionist. When he determined that all three of the rooms in his basement needed a coat of paint, he also decided that no-one would be able to achieve the level of paint perfection that he required. He has since taken it on himself. When I asked a mutual acquaintance how Brad was faring, she reported, “Not well. He’s exhausted from the business and even more exhausted because of the painting.” I expressed surprise that the painting (now six weeks in) wasn’t done, she shared that Brad had only completed about one half of one room, and was working on the painting about two hours a night. “What is done is beautiful,” she explained, “I just hope he lives to actually enjoy it.”
This is actually the antithesis of my attitude on painting. I’m very much in the get-it-done-so-no-one-sees-any-gaping-flaws school. Once a reasonable (and approved) level of quality has been achieved, it’s time to declare one’s work: Good Enough.
Sacrificing good enough on the altar of perfection is a dangerous approach. Perfection is the cruelest of taskmasters, given that we all have a different view on what perfect looks like.
The other consideration here is risk. In some instances, striving for perfection can actually generate more risks than it solves. Put on too many coats of paint, and walls will develop what’s called “spider cracking.” Keep trying different fertilizers and you’ll eventually kill your plant life. Go into the eighteenth sprint of what was supposed to be a five-sprint project, and you may near perfection…without a client!
I have written books, baked artisan bread, built a stone wall, taught classes, provided keynote addresses and a host of other things. I can honestly say that none…not a one…was perfect. I wish I could lay claim to perfection, but I’m glad I can’t. Because I haven’t chased perfection, I’ve learned a dozen different skills to earn the classification of “good enough” in most of them! From meat carving to singing with choral groups, I revel that I’m not the proverbial one-trick pony. (If you’re wondering about the etymology of that phrase, it comes from an old joke where someone was talking about the bad circus that had come to town. The only trick the one-trick pony knew was how to play dead).
Should you decide to perform well enough to be good, but not perfect, you’ll learn to know the joy of a variety of different skills. You’ll discover the interrelationships between one craft and one that seems wholly unrelated. (You’d be surprised at the things you can learn about project management from baking bread).
Lessons Learned: Back in Segment Eighteen, I mentioned Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers” and how 10,000 hours in virtually any craft can lead to true expertise. That works well for the perfectionists and those (like my son, the paleontologist) who want to devote their entire life to a single focus. It’s great to be them. But many of us have much shorter attention spans and want to try as many different areas as we possibly can. My paleo-child (Dr. Adam Pritchard) is focused on his efforts toward perfection in the dinosaur research community. His father (me) is focused on…SQUIRREL! I’ve always had a little trouble with focus. I’d rather try what’s interesting today. Adam is blessed in that he knows where he wants to build a perfect world. I am blessed in knowing that I don’t need perfection. I need to be good enough to know how to engage in whatever craft intrigues me this year. If you’re the perfectionist, great! But know it up front. And know what narrow focus merits your perfectionism. If you’re a generalist, wonderful! But again, know it up front. Accept that you won’t be perfect, but you’ll be good enough in a panoply of creative endeavors. The winner? The individual who knows what they’re going for.
To be a better manager (or a better friend), don’t try to impose your personal bent on others around you. Recognize them for what they are, and celebrate it with them. While they may not have your sense of either perfectionism or good-enough-ism, it’s OK. We all come out ahead when we accept what they’re accomplishing.
Up next? Wait a minute! I was young here just a minute ago!
If you want to review the previous elements of this e-book or blog, they’re all posted at www.carlpritchard.com/blog
If you have insights you’d like to share or comments or conversations, my e-mail is the best way to reach me at email@example.com. I’ll always get back to you within 24 hours. Always. And if you think I missed the mark? Check your spam folder. Thanks for joining me on this journey.