The fruitless search for certainty and perfection.

Seth Godin's blog is one of the few I read on a daily basis.

His observations are always on target, and occasionally he hits the bulls-eye. Like this morning (it's short enough that I copied it in it's entirety here - link on the title):

Exactly the same vs. exactly different

You will almost never find a case study or lesson that precisely fits the problem you're aiming to solve. You won't find a book that shows you what someone precisely like you did to solve a problem precisely like this one.

The search for the exact case study or the exact prescription is the work of the resistance, a clever way to stay safe, to protect yourself from your boss or your self-talk. If you wait for the perfect map before departing on your journey, you'll never have to leave.

It's also true, though, that you have never once had to solve a problem that is exactly different from what's gone down before. We'd like to romanticize our problems as unique, as the one and only perfectly difficult situation that is the result of a confluence of unrepeatable, unique causes.

Your problem is your problem, and it is like no other. But it's close enough to those that came before, close enough to the ones you've studied, that it probably pays to stop stalling and take the leap.

This reminded me of a recent prospect: an Internet marketing company that has experienced tremendous growth over the last 4 years, and not surprisingly, some growing pains. The senior leadership shared their concerns with us about how leadership was working and not working in the company. The CEO felt he had a good handle on the issue, and wanted to personally spearhead a new leadership development effort including 360 degree feedback. So far so good.

As I began asking more detailed information to create a customized program to help this company through their challenge, I began seeing a few yellow flags. (Most of these are near verbatim quotes, although the second sentence in each set came a while after the first.)

  • We want cutting-edge, brand-new, Google-like stuff that's focused on our completely unique situation... Please give us references so we know you've done this 40 times before and aren't learning on us.
  • We want you to provide us enough detail on how you will do this so we can make a fully informed decision.... Now that you told us, here's how we want you to do your work. 
  • We need changes that will take our company to 3x our current revenue... We can't tell you the time and money we are willing to invest in this, but we will know it when we see it.
  • We want to make sure you can move fast enough for us... We'll call you next week after we think this over.

Notice a pattern? Nevertheless, they seemed committed to getting some help for the company. (And frankly, many companies struggle with getting outside help. It's uncomfortable and can cause conflicting feelings.) Just before we were to meet to go over a more detailed plan together, however, I got an email with:

"We're not sure what direction we're going to go with our leadership development. Have a great 2013."

On request, the COO gave me a call, and shared that they had decided we weren't a good fit. I appreciate decisiveness in prospects and clients, and I asked how our company came up short. One interesting detail was they thought the kinds of companies I put down for references were too small and not fast enough (including a commercial software division of a $20B international company and an Internet marketing company of similar size). They didn't actually contact the references, just looked them up. The picture got very clear for me that their internal defense mechanisms kicked in.

I wished the COO well, and this person closed out the call with "Someday we just might call you - you never know!"

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I sincerely hope the company leadership is able to overcome their need for certainty and perfection. I'm sure to them they feel that they are protecting the company from solutions and help that won't work. Unfortunately no one knows how long it will be before they realize that their resistance itself is holding them back.



Chris Hutchinson

As CEO of Trebuchet Group, Chris Hutchinson thrives working with clients and his team to improve organizational clarity, teamwork, and leadership impact.

After years of building Legos® and tree houses around the world, Chris earned his Mechanical Engineering degree and followed that with an MBA. His experiences in the military and the business world taught him great leadership can be learned, and everyone is in some way a leader.

Clients and peers describe him as an inspirational catalyst for positive change. He is the author of Ripple - A Field Manual for Leadership That Works.

Chris and his wife live, garden, and bike in Fort Collins, Colorado, and have four children. He has an unrequited love affair with brownies.