Good is the enemy of great, was the first sentence in Jim Collins's Good to Great. Lucy Kellaway said more recently, Good enough is better than perfection. Those are two seemingly contradictory ways of looking at things. (Actually, they're different, but not quite as far apart as they may seem.)
In India, unfortunately, there is a third way.
As I said to a journo recently, one first needs to do at least the minimum needed to get the job done and only then start arguing about the virtues of good versus great. I'll point you to that journo's piece later in this post but first: For those of you who're unfamiliar with India, it is common in India for people to use the Hindi word jugaad to describe the concept of making do. I detest this word. I grant that, in various unavoidable situations, resources are limited in India and one perforce has to make do with what one has. However, more often than not, this word and the entire philosophy behind it, if one can call it that, is used just to disguise (not very well) the clear intention to not even do the bare minimum.
An example: every year, the monsoon rains leave the streets of major Indian cities potholed, often flooded and barely usable. This is a major hassle for motorists and a major embarrassment for India's image. Every year also, each city's municipal authority awards contracts to contractors to repair and rebuild the damaged roads. Every year. Why? Is India the beneficiary of particularly violent hailstorms? No, just the beneficiary of shoddy work. There are some roads that are built and maintained really quite well but those tend to be the minority. The same sort of thing is seen across other areas: health, education, construction, the environment, energy... the list is endless. (See yesterday's post What was revealed when the lights went out in India)
So why does this happen? A variety of reasons:
- Vested interests
- Agency problems
- Diversion of resources
- Cutting corners for the sake of profits
- Just plain not caring
Ultimately, it is a cultural issue.
What does this mean for start-ups? It means that, if one is not careful, jugaad can very quickly infect a company and become an established mode of operation. This is dangerous. When you start a company, you want to make sure its foundations are solid. This may even being a bit of a dictator on issues that you consider truly important. I myself am picky enough about the details that, if a portfolio company sends me a legal contract or a marketing brochure to review, I not only check and comment on the essentials of the document, but also hunt out and correct every spelling error and every grammatical mistake, sometimes even pointing out formatting inconsistencies. I don't impose spelling lessons on my interlocutors but still -- does my approach take it too far? Quite possibly -- but I'm in the Jim Collins camp, not with Lucy Kellaway on this one.
You also need to ensure that you control the core of what you've set out to do and that you prioritise it above all else. Once you have met minimum standards, you can start the good versus great argument, but not before.
To clarify, I didn't actually say that jugaad is good. I think it's terrible! Entrepreneurs should aim higher! Some of the quotes aren't verbatim but the article does convey the essence of my views pretty clearly.
Update: My uncle who is a professor at IIT Bombay just wrote me to say that Chapter 3 of his doctoral thesis began with the words, "Good is not good if better is possible." True!