The Perfect is the Enemy of the Good


by Samuel Greengard

I have a theory about how humans do things. It goes something like this: propose anything and most people will find all sorts of reasons why it won't work or possibly might not work in a certain situation.

Solve world hunger? You might miss one person in outer Mongolia! Adopt a cloud computing initiative that will boost sales force productivity by 20 percent? It potentially puts data at risk!

Usually, the argument against an initiative is predicated on the fact that a potential flaw exists somewhere. The logic works like this: because the technology or proposal might fall short of perfection, or some flaw might become apparent at some point, it's better to postpone the process until it's proven 100 percent safe and effective.

Not surprisingly, the repercussions ripple through an organization in subtle and insidious ways. Take social networking. Employees flock to Facebook and Twitter and then, suddenly, CIO Grumpus catches wind of what's happening and expresses concern that that people are wasting time and productivity will plummet.

You think I'm exaggerating? A September 2009 Robert Half study found that 54 percent of U.S. companies ban workers from using social networking sites. Only 10 percent provide full access. For details click here.

Huge mistake. As Lon Safko, CEO of Innovative Thinking, a Phoenix-based social marketing strategist and author of The Social Media Bible puts it: "There are times when you need to research a company or supplier via Facebook or LinkedIn and if you lack social media tools you are at a disadvantage."

In reality, only a small percentage of employees abuse social networking. Just as only a small percentage of people view porn or gamble at work. And, let's face it, there are ways to identify culprits and take appropriate action.

Social media is only a small piece of the puzzle, of course. Spread this type of thinking across IT and the enterprise and you wind up with a serious case of analysis paralysis. You can almost hear the words of caution rolling off the CIOs lips: Wait and see. Avoid the bleeding edge.

Yes, these organizations avoid the bleeding edge. Instead, they wind up bludgeoned by the competition. Myopic thinking always leads to diminished innovation and lost opportunity.

A smarter approach? Encourage people to shoot down all the reasons for not doing something. Rather than focusing on exceptions, think about how the organization can be exceptional.