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Avoiding Diminished Returns - Knowing When Enough Really Is Enough

I had a conversation the other day with a friend who is going through a rough time in his personal life. As is the norm when you know someone isn’t doing so great, I asked if he was doing okay. His response? “No, I’m not doing okay. And who wants to be ‘okay’ anyway? Okay, cute, and fine – these are my least favorite words. Do you want to be okay? Do you want to be just okay? I want better.”

He’s not wrong. Living your life with “okay” as the bar for success is pretty lackluster. But it got me thinking about how we define success in our work life, too.

Image of nature with a sign of multiple arrows pointing in different directions

I’m certainly not here to tell you how to live your life. And if you’re in the startup world, I probably wouldn’t have to challenge you to raise your bar above “okay” anyway. It takes a certain relentless, borderline obsessive, hyper-focused personality to last very long in tech. (And I say that, with love, as a fellow card-carrying startup junkie.) It takes one to know one, and we’re all wired to aim to win every time. But actually, I’m here to suggest the opposite when it comes to work: that there are times that it’s not just smart to aim for “okay,” it’s the best approach there is.

At Wheels Up, we do a lot of work with very early stage companies where we’re constantly trying to find where the proverbial bar belongs. Is fine good enough? Do we need to spend another day going through one more revision cycle? Is “okay” going to get the job done? Money, time, and human bandwidth are always tight, so how do you know when “okay” is okay enough?

Here are three times I find myself setting the expectation just a little lower in the name of moving faster.

  1. It’s a short-term effort or patch: For instance, it’s a webpage that’s only going to be live for 2 weeks before it’s updated with the next release. It’s probably sufficient to do just enough to get it launched. Spending time on original graphics or new animation or a fifth round of copy edits with the Product Manager is probably beyond the point of diminishing returns. If that same webpage is going to live as-is for the foreseeable future, with thousands of dollars of ads pointing to it, hundreds of emails linking to it, and it’s prominently linked in your main navigation, that’s a very different story. You likely need to spend the extra time to make sure it’s better than just okay.

  2. It’s a low-risk, low-investment, low-impact activity: This is where you need to be real with yourself and your team about how many people are going to actually see it. Guestimate what the potential impact will be and then right-size the effort. Organic social media is the perfect example. We’ve had many clients agonize over a single tweet or Facebook post. This content is by definition fleeting, and the algorithms don’t help you out much favoring organic brand visibility. The real kicker is when that client only has 50 followers. No one is going to see it. Sure, do the work to build up your social footprint over time, but getting wrapped around the axle over something like wordsmithing a single tweet is absolutely a waste of your precious time. “Okay” is definitely okay here.

  3. It’s a test: So much of early-stage startup life is forming hypotheses, testing them, and then building on the findings. This is a case where speed is your friend. When it comes to the quality of the work, 80% is probably just fine. Be intentional about how you set up your testing so that you can still learn without overengineering. For example, if I want to test messaging for a new feature, I’m probably not going to use video as the medium. It takes a long time to build new video creative and it’s expensive. A faster way to test that messaging is to build a quick call down or email campaign with the SDR team and have them try out different CTAs or highlight different value props to see what perks prospects’ ears. Results can be yours in a matter of hours, not weeks.

It goes without saying: I’m not suggesting that “okay” means launching work that’s wrong, misleading, or incomplete. It just means that you may have to use judgment to decide when it’s ready to go live.

I’ll take the suggestion a quick one step further. That time you save launching the right content that’s happily surpassed a quality-bar that’s “okay”? Reallocate it to efforts that will help you figure out how to get more eyes on your marketing efforts all up. Why? We find that the majority of the time, the problem isn’t that the creative wasn’t exactly perfect, it’s that not enough of the perfect eyes saw it, processed it, and acted upon it.

What do you think? Is this controversial or wrong? Or maybe just game-day judgment calls that good managers are constantly making? I’d love to hear your ideas for rightsizing your final products to meet a bar that only reaches “okay.” Drop me a line!

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