While working in defense contracting, one of the manufacturing supervisors was fussing about one of the engineers and made the comment, “Better is the enemy of good enough.” I get it. The engineer was trying to do his job by making it the best it could be, but the manufacturing supervisor knew he had a schedule to meet and as long as it met the specifications, good enough was in fact good enough.
Although my dad isn’t an engineer, he is quite meticulous. I do admire him for that. I know when we work on things, it has to be exactly perfect. An eighth of an inch off is too much, and I am comfortable with much more than that….well, there is always caulk to fill in gaps, right? But his product is always better looking than mine.
So those are examples of people trying to be better. Trying to improve the product. Trying to live up to the standards that they have for themselves and their reputation. But we all know there are people who, like me on a construction project, look for the close enough scenario. They look for the “good enough” and maybe don’t even look for it, but feel that where ever they are at in the process is good enough.
I know there are times that good enough is enough, but in our daily lives, why do we settle for good enough. Why are we not pushing to become better each and every day? Why do people settle? People settle because they are part of the herd.
The herd is a culture. It affects offices, friendships, gyms, teams, churches, and any other organization that involves people.
The herd settles. The group settles. The masses settle. The majority rule. Most people, the herd, are comfortable. There are no wins, but there are also no losses either. There is no pushing of limits because that’s too hard. No fear of failure or ridicule. Aaron Tippin in his country song said “you’ve got to stand for something or you will fall for anything.” In the play Hamilton, the headlining character asks Aaron Burr, “Burr if you stand for nothing, what will you fall for?”
The idea is that most people don’t really stand for anything and really probably won’t fall for anything either. Neutrality is the desired state. The herding group might wonder about the best years of their life and the good old days. Wondering what could have been. They sit around with the other members of the herd and discuss how big the fish was that got away, always bigger than the last time the story was told.
A dear friend of mine, once a boss and forever a mentor, let me in on a secret early in my career. He let me know that the distance between good and great, really isn’t much. He would tell me, “Ben, It really doesn’t take much more effort to separate the good from the great. This applies to every aspect of life, regardless of the scenario. The herd stays in the good category. Those that make slightly more effort are on their way to great things.
What can we do to fight the herd mentality?
One more rep
Put in a little more time. Make one more call. Go for one more rep. Run to the next street light. In whatever you are doing, over time, that slight extra will separate you from all the others. The herd will try to keep you down. They will try to keep you in the herd. They don’t want you moving on. Misery loves company, and apparently good enough does as well. But by putting in the extra work, not settling for good enough, you are graduating from the herd into your own culture.
Leaving the herd means that by putting in a little work each day is better than one grand scheme. Lots of little things add up to more than one great big thing. The idea of compound interest comes to mind. As you begin to work on those little things, those small things to move you from good enough to great, they begin to compound on each other, giving you a much larger result in the long run.
The herd fears being different. Different is scary. Different is unheard of in the herd. The herd needs things to be the same. Mold yourself to be in the herd and try to not have differing thoughts. Seth Godin wrote a whole book about being weird. In it, he celebrates the fact that we all have a choice. Tom Peters, advises us to hire weird. In his book, The Little BIG Things, it falls under its own chapter. If we are all the same, we continue to get the same. Steve Jobs and Apple revolutionized the computer market with their super bowl ad in 1984 by literally breaking the mold. Today, well, everyone knows about Apple.
Once we start challenging some of the herd, things will become a little more difficult as they don’t want to lose a member. But once you break out of the compound you realize the world isn’t flat. The world is more than your state, your county, your city, your group, your herd. You might see a surge of people advising you against what you are doing. Close friends and family will also give advice against you bettering yourself.
Life after the herd
Suddenly the world becomes a blank slate. It really comes down to choice. Do you want to stay the same and be just like the rest of your group, the herd? Or, do you want to do something different, to challenge yourself, to push yourself? In the game of life, don’t be like the supervisor worried about better being the enemy of good enough. You owe it to yourself to be better. The world is ever changing. And if you aren’t working to get better, you are actually falling behind.
Push yourself to get out of they comfort zone. Feel empowered to trek out and away from the herd. Do it by putting in one more rep, consistently, and smile when they start to say you are weird. Then you will know you have officially left the herd.