Initiative – Clearly A “Dirty” Word

I have always been a “doer”.

Its not that I don’t plan, I do, but too much planning makes me anxious and after a while I just want to be in motion, breaking, making, failing or succeeding. Of course I know all those age-old cliches: “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail” and a Bulgarian one which is roughly translated to “sharpen the axe twice, chop once”; however, I am a restless being and usually start ‘doing’ long before I have any complete plan. Facebook portray this kind of attitude on the walls of their offices (poster, right):

“DONE is better than PERFECT” – In Facebook HQ

What is perfect anyway? Robert Kiyosaki, in Rich Dad Poor Dad, talks about the 80:20 principle. This can be applied to loads of situations, but the one I really like is that:

“You can get 80% done with 20% effort, while the remaining 20% (to get to perfection), requires another 80% effort.”

The point I believe he was making is to avoid perfection and rather go with completion (to get more done) because an obsession with perfection leads to nothing being done in the end. Why? Because if you are in a group of 10 trying to do a project with limited time available, perfection looks like this:

– PERFECTION but not completion – as a group you plan to achieve some specific goal, but after 6 months of little… NO… zero progress, you continue to hope that a day will come when all 10 of you magically appear in the same room together, where everyone will miraculously agree to the same project and in the remaining 6 months it will magically materialise. Also, no one will co-ordinate, somehow we will all do exactly the same amount and leadership responsibilities will be divided equally.

– COMPLETION – You take the initiative because time is running out and hope that you can get enough people on board with a charity project which may not be perfect, but it will make a difference.

– PERFECTION but not completion – You find out about an idea which may be perfect given our network and abilities, and you immediately notify the 9 other people it may (or may not) affect with an e-mail that covers every aspect of that idea, even though the idea is likely to still be half-baked and incomplete.

You spend several hours thinking about how to structure an e-mail which covers everything, anticipates any questions and clarifies issues you have analysed and decided may cause some confusion. You then prepare yourself for a ton of e-mails asking for further clarification which then take several hours to read and reply to.

In the process you might get annoyed at people who wrongly accuse you of this-and-that, but regardless, you put a smile on and reply.

– COMPLETION – You have a quick meeting with the people involved where and when it is convenient for them so that you can quickly share the basics and then see where the discussion goes, answering any reservations or questions along the way and you accept that not everyone will want to do this, but that this is fine because there are enough people who are happy to jump on board the ACTION train.

Which approach is more realistic?

I have always used the “80%, NOT 100%” philosophy and believe it is the main reason why I get so much done. It makes it really easy to take the initiative as well because once I like an idea, I just start working on it, worrying about the details as I get to them. Perhaps it is against conventional wisdom but somehow it usually works for me. Of course, sometimes it will fail and you learn from these failures.

Unfortunately, very little will be learned from the projects we don’t do. We will continue to plan for the perfect project and perhaps a day will come when we all meet, plan and agree, and then we will be ready but our time together will by then have run out. 

Initiative, it is clearly a “dirty” word in some people’s vocabulary.