The Blasphemy of GREAT WORK
Mountains should be climbed with as little effort as possible and without desire. The reality of your own nature should determine the speed. If you become restless, speed up. If you become winded, slow down. You climb the mountain in an equilibrium between restlessness and exhaustion. Then, when you are no longer thinking ahead, each footstep isn’t just a means to an an end but a unique event in itself. This leaf has jagged edges. This rock looks loose. From this place the snow is less visible, even though closer. These are things you should notice anyway. To live only for some future goal is shallow. It’s the sides of the mountain that sustain life, not the top. Here’s where things grow. ~ Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
Don’t get me wrong, I think great work is, well…great. I appreciated how my social media buddy and former Slacker Manager blog partner, Phil Gerbyshak, wrote a book on Make it Great. It is inspiring to see companies win Great Places to Work awards. Michael Bungay Stainer, a man whose work I admire and who joined me for a beer and conversation in Toronto, is devoted to helping “people, teams and organizations do less Good Work and more Great Work.” Jim Collins in Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t offers us a blueprint to move from good to great. As I was writing this I just received a review copy of a new book, Great Days at Work by Suzanne Hazelton. I have only looked at the cover so far but it looks great.
So this all seems great, but…
Call me vanilla, or meat and potatoes if you must, but I am fatiguing on great while getting increasingly enamored with good people doing good work in good organizations.
Good work isn’t nirvana and it isn’t perfect but it seems honest and attainable. To me, it is less about ideal and more about real. It removes a sense of unattainable striving and accepts the difficulties and challenges inherent in completing tasks and working with so many different people. Good work is sustainable while great work is only touched for short periods of time.
Good work is not hype or hyperbole. It is a fusion of gumption, and determination. It is a bit like running into a stiff headwind. You may not be making a great time but you persevere and you finish and you know you “did good.”
Good work embraces both bad and good days but in good work the good days outnumber the bad days by 3 to 1. Maybe Monday should just be taken out of the weekly work mix and be considered as a starter day for the week. I know this is a blasphemy for all the prophets of Make Monday Great but I am a bit of a late Tuesday morning around 10:30 a.m. type of guy. I find it liberating to let myself have one bad day of work each week.
In good work, it is okay to fumble fall and fail. You work to recover the fumble, pick yourself up after the fall, and try not to fail in the same way again. I like the Japanese proverb: Fall down seven times, stand up eight.
Good work weaves together grit with sh*t yet at the end of the day work doesn’t stink and you know you did a good job.
In good work you can’t wait to see some people and other people just weigh on you.
As you do good work you will find your engagement fluctuates ten times a day but overall averages at a solid 7.5 out of 10.
Good work fulfills a purpose without the necessity of missionary zeal or a corporate song. Good work is not mean — rather, veins of meaning streak through the day offering us a genuine why to work.
When I do good work, I don’t need to reach for the moon. I just need to reach out and help a coworker.
I don’t need to be a frosted flake Tony the Tiger of work going around growling, “GGRRRRREAT!” Kellogg’s once sent Tony to our home for a free breakfast with my children and a bunch of the neighborhood children. It was a warm summer day and they guy wearing the tiger suit kept overheating because the fan in his tiger head was not working. The lesson here: be careful about always being great because you might overheat your brain.
I know good does not sell while great gives us hope, inspiration, and a high standard. But this hope, inspiration, and high standard may be sowing the seeds of discouragement and disengagement.
To slightly modify M. Scott Peck’s beginning line in The Road Less Traveled, work is difficult. I am reminded of a line Elisabeth Kübler-Ross said in response to the psychological movement of many years ago called, I’m OK, You’re OK. She said, “I’m not OK, you’re not OK, and that is OK.” I think good work is OK.
At this stage of my career, good is good enough. I don’t need to take Jim Collins’ leap. Good feels human. Good feels attainable. Good feels significant. Good feels real. And that’s good for me. I hope you have a good day at work today.
David Zinger is an expert global employee engagement speaker and consultant who uses the pyramid of employee engagement to help leaders, managers, and organizations create good engagement.
Bethany Garrity says
Such an interesting post!!! This good v. great debate is in constant tension for me. I am a fan of Good to Great…but really, my very very favorite part of the book was in the last few pages, when he says, “No technology can instill the simple inner belief that leaving unrealized potential on the table – letting something remain good when it can become great – is a secular sin.” Striving for great can’t be a bad thing. It cannot. But…we can’t strive for great while leaving others behind, while stepping on coworkers heads as we climb the mountain, while forgetting what the main thing really is.
And yet, as you so eloquently wrote, some days, sometimes, we have to be OK with good. As much as I love that quote from Jim Collin’s book, I also love the idea of not letting perfect be the enemy of good. Sometimes, good is a great as it gets. And from there, we MUST move on.
In the vastness that is living well – part of being well means being comfortable with when good is enough and when great is achievable.
I read and then thought about your idea of good being good enough a lot before deciding to comment. I agree that good is easier to do consistently as opposed to great. However, good for a long time probably means out of business in that period. All companies need to get better at what they do so they can provide better service to their customers. If they are conistently good (with some bad) then they are falling behind. Good means some level of efficient good. What is as or more important is being effective good. I would suggest that all companies need to strive for great effectiveness and some level of efficiency. If you have great processes it allows your employees to be good longer and get better over time. Good is an extremely broad term and I assume it means average. We don’t tell our employees often enough if they are doing a good job or an ok job or what it even means to do a good or average job. I think that muddies the waters in terms of good versus great as well. If you dont tell someone they’re doing a good job they automatically assume they are because no one has told them otherwise.
Good has its rightful place but great needs to be in all organizations and specifically in the processes. I’ve heard the catchy phrase, hire and retain superstars. That is a fallacy. First there are very few superstars and second they dont generally work well together. What has to happen is to have “superstar” processes and then hire good people to work in that system.
Have I agreed with you or is there a distinction, I hope??
Thanks again, “great” article.
David Zinger says
Thanks for the comments. I don’t see good as average. It is better than average. In university a C was average while a B was good. You could do a lot of good with a B. But now we have grade inflation and a B is no longer good enough. I think we toss around the word and constructs of great too easily. I will come back later and read your response again to think some more and thanks for making me think.
David Zinger says
Wow, a secular sin for being good. Perhaps great encompasses some of the deadly 7 sins of lust, greed, envy, gluttony, and pride. Okay this is not a great comment, but remember I am a fan of good. I like the down-to-earth zen engagement: chop wood, carry water, don’t wobble. This may be my own idiosyncrasy but I do more work, more sustainable work, and I think even better quality work when I work at being good rather than great.
Bethany Garrity says
I think the gist here is try…try hard (not to the point of exhaustion, not to the point of self-compromise), but try. Strive in a way that’s healthy. Understand the balance of going for greatness vs getting it done. More for the sake of more isn’t healthy. But more for the sake of learning, for the sake of the collective good, for the sake of feeling like you’ve accomplished a goal, well, those things have to be OK.
There is so much here. It’s a fabulous thought-provoking post.
Greatness applies, but not at all times, at all costs. Good applies, but not at all times, not at all costs. Find the balance and use your expertise and energies accordingly.
Judy Bell says
Great post, David! I have always said, “Don’t let “perfect” be the enemy of good.” Sometimes good is, well GOOD!
David Zinger says
Bethany, You have a wonderful way with words. Of course, I am reminded of Yoda’s advice: “Do or not do, there is not try.” I find good liberating, it is easier to get started, it takes the pressure off, and I do hope for “really good” at times and anything that is great is really only a byproduct of doing good work day after day after day.
David Zinger says
To me, and I don’t say this for anyone else, great is the enemy of good because it can paralyze just beginning and it can set up such an ideal that I am never happy. PGA golfers are really good but only have a great round once in a while. To try and make a great round is often counter productive and after many great rounds in the very low 60’s or high 50’s they will report that “it just happened.”
Gord Green says
Interesting post David! And…interesting responses.
I think that “great” is, well, “Great!” And, I think that greatness is something ideal to which we should strive.
However, in the midst of all of the chatter about “great-ness”, what is often highlighted as being “great” is often not truly “great” – it’s nothing more than just “great-coated” and, at best, is just “good” coated in the hyperbole of “great”.
Either way, I think that what we actually need to strive towards is neither “Great” nor “Good”, but rather “Better”. “Great” or “Good” can become a destination, a status, or state of being. “Better” is a forward climbing process, a never-ending quest, yet something I can almost always achieve in almost any endeavour of life, including work life. “Better” is a superior personal measurement because it factors in me, my abilities, and my efforts.
In the end, I hear you David. And I am reminded of the very wise story of the Tortoise and the Hare. Some would say that the Hare was ‘great’ at running the race whereas the Tortoise was not even good, he was poor at running. However, the Tortoise was better at winning because of his constancy, consistency, and plodding. Hence, the Tortoise was a poor runner, but a great finisher.
David Zinger says
Dare I say it Gord, a great comment. Or at least I thought it was good and good is my great.
Anil Dwaithi says
Good Article David.
Lovely, Great, Good & Better Comments. Thanks David & Thanks all of You, got enlightened not only from the Article but also from the Comments.