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, (including a full chapter in The Accidental Creative.) However, there’s one word that I think better stands as the bastion of mediocrity in many workplaces: adequacy.

“That’s close enough.”
“Seems reasonable.”
“That will sell-in.”
“It’s the most likely _______.”

Most of us are being tasked with doing more with less, and 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 nearly as often as we employ it as our primary strategy.

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. As Scott Mautz told us in a recent podcast interview, you get the culture you allow. 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.

Unnecessary Complexity. When you are forced to navigate needless (or senseless) hurdles just in order to engage in your work, it can thoroughly zap your drive to excel. Make certain that you’ve defined the problem in the most simple way you can, and that you are eliminating any unnecessarily complex elements of your process.

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.

Todd Henry

Todd Henry

Positioning himself as an “arms dealer for the creative revolution”, Todd Henry teaches leaders and organizations how to establish practices that lead to everyday brilliance. He is the author of five books (The Accidental Creative, Die Empty, Louder Than Words, Herding Tigers, The Motivation Code) which have been translated into more than a dozen languages, and he speaks and consults across dozens of industries on creativity, leadership, and passion for work.

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