First Make It Work, Then Make It Work Well

Imagine you are lost in the mountains in late autumn. The temperature begins to drop and snow begins to fall. You have no tent or blanket and are in for a very rough and dangerous night.

What do you want in that moment? What you want is to come across a well-appointed log cabin in the woods with power, heat, running water, a roaring fire, a stocked pantry, and a phone so you can call for help.

But what do you truly need in that moment? You need a safe place to sleep.

Given a choice between a builder who will create your log cabin that you can move into in 9 months, or MacGyver1 who can build you a shelter in the next hour, which would you choose?

Clearly you’d choose a makeshift shelter today over a cabin months from now. The choice is obvious.

But why don’t we operate this way at work?

When we have a need, or our customers have a need, we design the cabin or the mansion and we’re perfectly fine waiting for months or years before the problem is solved. It is acceptable to us to not have a solution to our need until we can have the perfect solution.

Why do we think this way? We think this way because we believe that the status quo is acceptable and that we’d rather spend the money once and get the ‘perfect’ solution.

We don’t act as though we are in a survival situation where we need a solution immediately. We don’t act with the urgency and that the belief that reducing the problem today is more beneficial than fully solving the problem tomorrow.

We operate with complacency believing that what we already have is good enough and that improvements are optional.

This isn’t the attitude of the most successful organizations.

I’ve worked with both small and large organizations. Large organizations have many challenges, but they generally also have bigger budgets, more people and a better ability to take a long-term view on any challenges or opportunities. Very few challenges or opportunities pose an existential threat to a large organization.

Smaller organizations don’t have the budget, workforce, or momentum to be able to wait to solve a problem. What might be a minor issue in a larger company or department could easily become an existential threat to a smaller company. Therefore, they put a high priority on the speed of a solution.

We’ve all heard the aphorism, “The perfect is the enemy of the good.” In this instance it means that a good solution today is far better than a perfect solution later.

If you want more innovation, or if you want more responsiveness to customer needs, or if you want your organization to act with urgency, treat each new challenge or opportunity like being in the woods in late autumn when the night begins to fade and the snow begins to fall.

Do whatever you can to begin to deliver value. Move decisively and with urgency.

Act like this is a survival situation. It may not be one today, but if you never find ways to deliver value sooner and faster you will eventually find yourself in a true survival situation, and be wholly unprepared for it.

  1. Or another survivalist ↩︎