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‘It’s good enough’ is a phrase you’ll never hear in Dubai, writes Tommy Weir, author of ’10 Tips for Leadership in the Middle East’.

At least from the ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who says, “Nothing is impossible.”  When Mohamed Alabbar, CEO of Emaar, came to the ruler back in 2002 proudly displaying plans to build a ninety-story tower, something that would be “good enough,” he found out otherwise.

Ninety-stories is a tall building anywhere in the world.  For Sheikh Mohammed, this was not good enough and so he asked, “Can you do a comparison with the tallest buildings in the world and then come back to see me?” clearly pushing Alabbar.  From that, we have today the Burj Khalifa.

Famed psychologists Paul Fitts and Michael Posner, argue that most people settle for things being just good enough. When acquiring a skill, behaviour, attitude – the ingredients of performance – people pass through three distinct stages. During the first stage, you intellectualise the task and discover new ways to accomplish it more proficiently. You are very aware of what you are doing and concentrate on improving.

In the second stage, you concentrate less, as you actually are better, and thus making fewer errors and generally becoming more efficient. Then comes the third stage, where you figure that you’ve gotten as good as you feel you need to get at a specific task, skill, behaviour and you basically run on autopilot thereafter.

This is about feeling you are as good as you need to be, not necessarily being as good as you could be. Once you feel you are good enough at something, you move it to the back of your mind and stop paying attention to how you do it. The unintended consequence is that you stop improving and start to stagnate.

The business implication of this is that performance stagnates as well. Our limitations have less to do with our innate limits than simply with what we consider to be an acceptable level of performance. It’s disheartening to repeatedly hear leaders proclaim they are good at something when in reality they could be much better.

In actuality, most leaders settle for just being good enough, although they argue otherwise. The way they lead is akin to how you or I approach driving. You do it everyday and most likely will continue to do it as you have done for years.

Thinking about this idea of “good enough” has made me wonder, “What makes Dubai what it is and allows it to excel beyond the rest?” Well, it is the drive of the people who have built this city to keep getting better, improving and not resting on what is as a substitute for what it could be.

The management term for this is “Deliberate Practice,” meaning you relentlessly focus on improving yourself. Professional drivers, to take the example of driving again, spend time practicing the areas of their performance that can be better.

A tireless pursuit of getting better is what those drivers have, Dubai has and you should have if you want to be the best.

Top achievers tend to follow the same general pattern for development and consciously keep out of the “good enough” stage.

In other words, they stay in the first stage that Fitts and Posner refer to as the cognitive stage – where you discover new strategies, become more proficient, constantly seek feedback and then work on improving further.

Tommy Weir

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