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Go With What You’ve Got

There are some fabulous tidbits appearing in my inbox from the newsletters I’ve signed up for. This one echoes a big learning from the book Individualized Corporation, further cemented at a leadership camp last summer: effective people don’t wait for things to be 100% perfect. They go with 70%. The last three paragraphs below hit that idea right out of the park for me. Read on….

Do What You Can With What You’ve Got
Written by Bud Bilanich
Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Outstanding performers do the best with what they’ve got. If they don’t have what they want or need, they get it. If they can’t get it, they do the best they can without it. Outstanding performers don’t make excuses, they deliver.

Last week I did a post where I mentioned Margaret Wheatley’s great little book Turning to One Another. The very last page of that book has a great story. It comes from the Aztec people of Mexico.

“It is said by our Grandparents that a long time ago there was a great fire in the forests that covered our Earth. People and animals started to run, trying to escape the fire. Our brother owl, Tecolotl, was running away also when he noticed a small bird hurrying back and forth between the nearest river and the fire. He headed towards this small bird.

“He noticed that it was our brother the Quetzal bird, Quetzaltototl, running to the river, picking up small drops of water in his beak, then returning to the fire to throw that tiny bit of water on the flame. Owl approached Quetzal bird and yelled at him: ‘What are you doing, brother? Are you stupid? You are not going to achieve anything by doing this. What are you trying to do? You must run for your life!’

“Quetzal bird stopped for a moment and looked at owl and then answered, ‘I am doing the best I can with what I have’.

“It is remembered by our Grandparents that a long time ago the forests that covered our Earth were saved from a great fire by a small Quetzal bird, an owl and many other animals and people who got together to put out the flames.”

I love this story. It illustrates one of my favorite beliefs, the power of one. It also makes a great point about becoming an outstanding performer – do what you can with what you have. Many people will miss deadlines and say, “I didn’t have all of the information I needed.” Outstanding performers either make sure they get the information, or do the job the best they can in spite of the missing information.

When I was an undergraduate at Penn State, I studied journalism. Bob Farson was one of my favorite professors. One of his favorite sayings was “Go with what you’ve got.” He always told us that we would probably never have all the information we needed or wanted to write a story, but the deadline was more important that a complete story – “You can’t print a blank newspaper, or go on the air at 6:00 and say ‘give us five minutes to finish getting ready’.” He was right.

The common sense point here is simple. Outstanding performers do the best with what they’ve got. If they don’t have what they want or need, they get it. If they can’t get it, they do the best they can without it. Outstanding performers don’t make excuses, they deliver.

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