Good, Better, Best – what are good enough goals?

I’ve worked with two separate management groups recently, both of whom had the words, better or best in their goal statements, e.g. we want to be the best in market X. When I challenged the groups to explain what better or best would look like, there were different views that had to be talked through. The intention to drive achievement seemed to have the opposite effect and there were at least a couple of people in each group who expressed a view that sounded more like “good enough” when pressed to explain how best would be measurable.

It reminded me of Barry Schwartz’ book The Paradox of Choice. Here for the first time I fully understood the implications of being a “maximiser” (aka perfectionist) – someone who is constantly looking for the best solution, option or performance. The trouble is that we can never know for sure that we’ve become the best and in today’s world of expanding choices, better or best may only last a moment.

Schwartz’s hypothesis is that it is easier to be a “satisficer” – setting a standard or level that you will be satisfied with.

What I like about Schwartz’s work is understanding why satisficers are more satisfied – because they’ve already defined what they will be satisfied with so they know when to stop looking or working. I also liked his examples that show “satisficing” isn’t a cop out. He describes world sporting stars who are satisficers, who know what targets they want to achieve and yet whose standards are set very high – and increase each year.

Hear Barry Schwartz speaking at TED

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