Rod asks perceptive questions. We've been having a good time. He's been here this week for his second site visit as part of our participation in the NLM/AAHSL Leadership Fellows program. During his first week, back in April, we tried to structure the week to give him a broad overview of the library and its relationships to the rest of the university. This week we've been digging in more depth into how the library itself runs, so we've had long and intense discussions about budget and personnel issues and strategic planning and all of the things involved in moving the organization forward.
"Don't let perfection or 'better' be the enemy of good." My colleague, Jim Shedlock, uses this phrase as the tagline on his sig file. It indicates a theme that Rod and I have returned to many times this week.
I'm often grateful that I'm not a perfectionist. Like the quest for perfect information in decision making, the impulse towards getting things exactly right can be paralyzing. Or at the very least, time wasting.
We've been talking about how to achieve that delicate balance of engaging all of the members in a group, getting all of the opinions and issues on the table, and then deciding which to take into account and which not, in order to keep things moving. Time and again I've seen situations where, in the quest for perfect consensus, the desire to accommodate the opinions or concerns of a single member of the group end up either derailing the process altogether or, at best, resulting in a solution which is actually not as effective as it might have been, had it not been for the desire to adjust the result for that single individual.
It's a very difficult judgment call on the part of the leader. If you don't accommodate every objection or issue, you run the risk of having members of the group feel that their views are being insufficiently respected, and that can sabotage your group process altogether. And sometimes, the views of that outlier might be exactly the brilliant idea that is needed. On the other hand, trying to come to perfect consensus all too often leads to the result found when trying to "write by committee." By the time everybody's edits have been incorporated, the document is a stilted, bloated, caricature of what might have been.
There's no magic formula that tells you (the leader) what to do in these cases. You rely on experience, good listening, asking the right questions, and an intuition for when it's the right time to pull the plug and move on. You hope that you'll get it right more often than not, but the fact is you're going to get it wrong sometimes too.
Fortunately for me, I'm comfortable with that. It's good enough.
It'd kill a perfectionist.