Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Not Bad Enough

Forget any quests or searches for excellence. Many workplaces operate on the benchmark of Not Bad Enough.

The Not Bad Enough standard means that no corrective action will be taken until disaster has struck or is minutes away. Earlier warnings are dismissed as alarmist or a waste of time and money. The line "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" is frequently employed. Stories are told of times in the past when someone uttered a dire prediction and nothing bad transpired. Executives who can erupt in anger if a restaurant order is slightly late suddenly attain the patience of Buddhist monks.

Don't worry, they purr. It's not bad enough to merit that sort of strenuous response. The more open among them urge waiting for additional evidence.

Naturally, there are times when their words make sense. Specialists often see crises everywhere and a leadership group that listened to all of their predictions would either be paralyzed in fear or running off in all directions.

The Not Bad Enough advocates, however, are a different crew. They operate not from a rational resistance to alarms but from three perspectives. Some live in a fantasy world in which nothing terrible will take place because the organization is just so big and powerful that terrible events scurry away at its approach. Others are calculating careerists who figure that it is wiser to wait for irrefutable evidence of a problem - such as lawsuits or explosions - than to leap into a decision that might harm one's progress up the ladder. Still others may secretly welcome a crisis because it will be a break from their usual humdrum routine and will provide many opportunities for heroic action.

Those who seek to move this Not Bad Enough crowd will have to show:
  1. The danger is real;

  2. There is greater career damage and risk in delay than in action;

  3. To take action now is heroic.

If those criteria are not addressed, then the odds of persuasion are remote. After all, things are bad enough.


Rowan Manahan said...

Otherwise known as the "Chicken Licken" school of thinking ...

"Well the sky didn't fall on our heads the last time you came in here squawking, so why should we believe that it's going to happen this time?"

Michael Wade said...


Quite true. A foreign policy analyst once called it the Pearl Harbor mentality: you wait until something blows up before acknowledging that there might be a problem.