Posts Tagged ‘perfection’


Excellence or Perfection Paralysis?

Posted on: February 6th, 2009 by Hayim Herring

Good is the enemy of great. And that is one of the key reasons why we have so little that becomes great… Few people attain great lives, in large part because it is just so easy to settle for the good life. The vast majority of companies never become great, precisely because the vast majority become quite good–and that is their main problem.

These are the opening, memorable words in the now classic business book by Jim Collins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap….and Others Don’t. Collins reminds those of us in the non-profit world as well that we should never simply strive to be just good as an organization but always aspire to become great.  Always aspire toward greatness—is that realistic? I believe that it is—in fact, the answer should be a resounding “yes” in almost everything that happens in a non-profit organization, especially in a religious institution. After all, faith-based organizations rest on the belief that they can model a microcosm of a more ideal community.  Therefore, we should substitute the achievement of just good for great as our overall organizational benchmark. 

If you’re still not convinced of the merits of the aspiration toward greatness, think of it this way: in developing a funding request for an innovative program, would you strive to develop a good proposal or a great proposal?

However, there’s a big difference between reaching for greatness and waiting for perfection.  While people know that perfection is unattainable, they sometimes develop perfection paralysis–the need to polish every word and idea, the desire to anticipate every contingency related to change.  Understandably, individuals involved in nonprofit work need to be very diligent about wisely spending donor dollars and volunteer energy.  But much time can be wasted in trying to create a perfect change process.  Therefore, it is better to achieve 80% of your desired results with excellence than 100% of your desired outcomes with the impossible goal of perfection.  You will accomplish much more, sustain the energy of volunteers and staff and maintain the interest of funders. 

So here’s where I would especially like your opinion: assuming no additional funding, as greatness is an attitude and attribute that isn’t for sale, what would it take to turn your synagogue or organization from a really good one to a great one?

Rabbi Hayim Herring