Thursday, June 26, 2014


Time, now, for the derailed sequel to the post about details.

True, meticulous attention to detail is a key component of success.

There is a caveat, however. 

Murphy’s Law #781 says, “There is always one more thing.”  No matter what we are doing, we rarely finish.   Time expires.  Until it does, we can always wipe the side of the plate or add a garnish.  The lawn always needs trimming, and errant weeds come out of camouflage in the garden.  

In the classroom, a lesson can always use one more resource, a particularly strong and relevant analogy, a few more examples.  There’s always more feedback to give, more student work to read, and more books on the pile of professional material on the desk.  Only when the very last minute of the year has turned over do educators savour the exultation of being finished.  Until then, we must be content with stopping.  We can always make something better.

This drive for excellence creates success.  As Arthur Schopenhauer says, “It is in the treatment of trifles that a person shows what they are.”  True enough. 

Perfectionism, though, is the aberration of excellence, its alter-ego.  It can create stress and frustration, both for the individual it enslaves and the co-workers and family that person impacts.    What’s needed is balance.  We develop an eye for detail and inspire others to do the same.  At the same time, we know when it’s time to stop, when we have reached the point of diminishing returns.  This discernment separates those who are obsessed for the sake of obsession from those who can balance excellence with the reality of time constraints and job complexity.

For the take-away in all this, Murphy’s Law helps again.   #701 says, “If everything is going well, you have obviously overlooked something.”  We need to ask ourselves, what details have we missed?  Have we honoured our code of excellence?  Satisfied that we have asked all the questions, delineated a realistic vision, inserted the right items on the list, verified their quality and then checked  them off, we must be content for today. 

Caveat:  Establish excellence, keep the details in the forefront, and give yourself permission to stop.

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