I was perusing Bloomberg Businessweek online last week during my morning coffee when I stumbled upon a story about a letter originally written by a second-year Stanford MBA candidate named Shirzad Bozorgchami. This letter has been passed down to first-year MBA students every year since the late '80s. Now, if you’re thinking, “well that sounds incredibly boring,” you are not alone, because initially I did too. How could a Reagan-era letter from one class of future "Masters of the Universe" to another possibly be relevant to me in 2014? I skipped the article and started my work day. Throughout the day my hasty dismissal of that article gnawed at me. So after I put the kids to bed that night, I looked up the article and read Shirzad’s letter and was humbled in three ways.
First, I was amazed by the incredible intelligence articulated in that letter. While aimed at Stanford MBA students, the letter dripped with common sense applicable to everyone. Mainly — the price of perfection is rarely worth the cost.
That lesson took me years to learn. And I learned it the hard way; while the concept of “good is the enemy of great” may apply at certain critical moments, the pursuit of perfection in most aspects of life rarely pays off. Said differently, in many cases, “great is often the enemy of good enough,” especially when the difference between good enough and great results is a missed deadline. I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t strive towards great work. I’m simply saying that 95% delivered on time will beat 100% delivered late almost every time.
The letter also speaks to the fact that simply passing classes is not the goal; the reason someone undertakes an MBA program is to learn and grow and to make themselves a “better, tougher and more capable person.” Doesn’t that apply to all of us every day? We’re all immersed in deliverables and deadlines, and the urge to just get it done often overshadows our desire to stop and grasp how our work connects us to our colleagues and the bigger picture. If we were all able to pause for that moment once in a while, we would be a better, tougher, and more capable team.
Finally, realizing that I had been arrogant and wrongly dismissed the article with just a few key words that were not of immediate personal interest to me (such as MBA and Stanford) made me question if I had been similarly dismissive in other areas of my professional and personal life. Insight, intelligence, and inspiration can come from anywhere, at any time, and they rarely announce their arrival. We should all be savvy enough to notice wisdom from unexpected places when it does appear, and it did so for me in this letter.
Mark Sanders is the CFO of MEC North America.
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