Tag Archives: Mining disasters

Sometimes a “C-” is not “Good Enough”

Admiral Rickover asks: "Why not the best?"

Why Not The Best?
“In your life was there ever a time in which you did less than the best?” If the answer was “yes,” the follow up question was:  “Why not the best?” – asked by Admiral Hyman George Rickover (Admiral Rickover would ask this of all Naval Cadets, and the story was oft re-told by Jimmy Carter).

Good enough is good enough
“When good enough gets the job done, go for it.  It’s way better than wasting resources (And, remember, you can usually turn good enough into great later”).
Fried and Hansson, ReWork

Think “good enough.”  By “good enough” we mean absolutely, definitely, not our very best, not perfect.  We are actively encouraging you to perform occasionally below standard…  Men are better at saying, “OK, this is good enough in my eyes.”
Claire Shipman and Katty Kay, Womenomics

Six Sigma
Six Sigma seeks to improve the quality of process outputs by identifying and removing the causes of defects (errors).

“Zero Defects”
Zero Defects” is Step 7 of “Philip Crosby’s 14 Step Quality Improvement Process”


Good enough is good enough – until it is not.  Then good enough is a disaster.

I’ve thought about this a lot over the last few days.  The thoughts were prompted by a couple of news items, with some numbers buried within the stories that have deeply bothered me, and a whole lot of other folks.

Greenspan argues that a "C-" is "good enough" ("I was right 70 percent of the time.")

Consider these numbers:

Alan Greenspan, the former Federal Reserve chairman, said Wednesday of his two-decade career in government: “I was right 70 percent of the time, but I was wrong 30 percent of the time. And there were an awful lot of mistakes in 21 years.” (read about this here).

“86 percent of mines are safe.” (I heard this stated in an NPR interview by a spokesman defending mine safety – I don’t have a link).

The list is pretty long that describes business decisions, practices, “quality control” issues, where good enough is not good enough.  The airplane safety was not good enough when the President of Poland and a plane load of others died in a crash that, at first reports, may have been caused by an unsafe airplane and pilot error.

Alan Greenspan was clearly not practicing the right levels of “good” when he was only right 70 percent of the time.  In fact, when Greenspan said it, here was the response by the committee chair:

That prompted Phil Angelides, the commission’s chairman, to say Thursday that he would consider himself a success if he was right just 51 percent of the time. “I don’t aspire to reach what Mr. Greenspan thinks he has reached,” he said, in a sardonic tone.

And a mine safety figure of 86 percent mines deemed safe is clearly not good enough – just ask the families of the twenty-nine dead miners, as they labored for a company with an abysmal safety record and an attitude that clearly placed profits over human safety and even human life.

One of the true business and society and life challenges is this one:  when is “good enough good enough” vs. when is “my best” critical?

I agree with the “good enough” movement – except when I don’t.  I don’t mind a “good enough” free pen in a conference center.  I don’t mind receiving a text message with a spelling error.  But I would like the very best airline safety, if you don’t mind.  And when Alan Greenspan argues that his 70 percent right was good enough (that is a “C-” in most grading systems), I think it is time to dust off Admiral Rickover’s question.