Wednesday, October 24, 2007

110% (or more)

We want you to give this 110%.

Maybe it's just the math that confuses people. You can have a rate of growth that exceeds 100%, so the people who say such things must reason that you can also grow your efforts by more than 100%. What they want is probably an exponential increase in effort, but relatively few people are comfortable with the mathematics of exponents and even fewer are comfortable with what exponential increase means to human beings. The few stories we tell about exponential growth (one is called The Token Gift) are nightmares of small things that suddenly become overwhelming.

Let's assume that there are only two groups who can hear the sentence "give this 110%": there's the group that can do the math and the group that can't do the math.

The group that can do the math hears the statement and knows that you think they are incapable of doing what you have asked, even if they put forward 100% of their best effort. Depending on the situation, they are now free to give much less than their best (because even their best will not get the job done) or to try wild and crazy solutions (because they know they need something outside their area of competence in order to get the job done).

The group that can't do the math hears only that you want a big effort. This suggests that effort is more important than competence. Even those who want to comply will turn their attention to trying harder instead of performing better.

If they give you 100% effort, they will have nothing left for the automatic processes that keep them alive. They will have nothing left for the automatic processes that keep your business running. They will be finished when the task is finished. Why would you want that?

If you really want to get something done, focus on getting it done. Effort is irrelevant; results matter.

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