When I worked as a bond trader, which I did for many years, one of my first tasks each morning was to touch base by phone with other traders in the “street” as the marketplace is called, to see what they were up to. And we would continue to converse off and on throughout the day in what sometimes appeared to be idle chit-chat, but it was our way of sharing and gathering information that affected the business decisions we made during trading hours. For the most part this dialogue served us well by keeping us focused, informed and stimulating ideas. There were times, though, when that camaraderie became an obstacle to our success rather than inspiring it. That was particularly true when the bond market turned sour and our positions were under water. During such times our conversations tended to digress into rationalizing our predicaments rather than how to resolve them, resulting in a misery-loves-company mindset.
If “saisficing”, the term we discussed last week which means aiming “to achieve only satisfactory results”, then “sensemaking” is how we justify being content or satisfied with results that are good but not great, of achieving less than our full potential. My friend and business scholar who I mentioned last week describes “sensemaking” as “the way people rationalize after-the-fact their choices and behaviors by giving these decisions and behaviors purpose, intention, justification, etc., some of which was not conceived beforehand.” Sensemaking like satisficing further explains how and why “good is the enemy of great”.
In bond trading, as in any endeavor, the difference between good and great is not determined by one’s ability to avoid difficult circumstances such as sour markets, rather it is the ability to avoid the pitfalls of “satisficing” and “sensemaking” – being content to achieve only satisfactory or good enough results instead of striving to reach one’s full potential, then rationalizing such mediocre performance.
“Good is the enemy of great” as Jim Collins proclaims and there is definitely a war waged between the two. So, how can great overcome good? Let’s pursue it further next week.