A Washington dignitary while touring NASA headquarters many years ago paused to greet a janitor who was sweeping the hallway. In the course of their brief conversation the VIP asked the man with the broom to describe his official function at NASA to which the janitor proudly responded, “I’m helping send someone to the moon!”
The past two weeks we have explored the idea that “good is the enemy of great” as Jim Collins points out in his book, Good to Great, and one reason for this is described in the word “satisficing”, meaning the intentional aim to achieve only satisfactory results. That is to say that “good enough” is simply good enough rather than striving for excellence. “Good is the enemy of great” is further explained by the word “sense-making” which is how we justify being content or satisfied with results that are good but not great.
Yet, as I stated a couple of weeks ago, there are people who DO excel beyond mere satisfactory performance, and organizations that achieve extraordinary results. What is it that motivates some to greatness while others remain content to perform good enough? One loyal reader responded with this: “. . . Motivating people to be great rather than good can be challenging because I believe it comes from inside and we have to touch that God within to attain greatness. I believe to attain greatness in our work, the work has to satisfy and fulfill our soul as much or more than our pocketbook. . .”
This past week the whole world witnessed both personal and organizational greatness as the rescue efforts of the miners in Chile who had been trapped underground for over two months reached its emotional and successful climax. Those men’s lives were not saved by “satisficing” or “good enough” efforts but by striving for greatness at every level. Nor would man have ever reached the moon except for people like the janitor striving for excellence at something even as seemingly mundane as sweeping the floors. But, “. . . it comes from inside and we have to touch that God within to attain greatness,” as the reader pointed out, and that I think is exactly what we were created to strive for – each and every one of us.