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  • Ross Moughtin

Why not stop at 98%?


No doubt there will be spelling mistakes which evaded my spell cheque while my punctuation will be, all over the: place. But in 45 minutes or so, I will be pressing SEND and off goes this document, mistakes and all, into the blogosphere. With no recall. I’ve just been reading an excellent article in the New York Times entitled, “It’s Never Going to Be Perfect, So Just Get It Done.” (Incidentally, the archaic capitalisation is theirs not mine). But over the years I have come across people who have been paralysed by their need for perfection. Invariably they either miss the deadline or work late into the night and then are too tired to perform well. So Tim Herrera in this article observes “And that needless obsession with perfection is kind of the whole deal: By agonizing over tiny improvements in our work — if they even are improvements — we prevent ourselves from achieving the actual goal of, you know, doing the work.” (His italics) His article is based on the work of Nobel prize winning economist, Herbert Simon, published in the 1950’s. It seems that the human race is divided into two groups: maximisers and satisfiers. Maximisers relentlessly research all possible options for fear of missing the “best” one: they steadfastly refuse the second best. In contrast, satisfiers make quick decisions based on less research; they just go for it. It will have to do. For the record, I am a signed-up satisfier. Otherwise you would not be reading this blog. However, the punch line to this research is the discovery that satisfiers are more satisfied with their decisions than maximisers. On thinking about it, that has to be an obvious outcome. If you are prepared to settle for the ‘pretty good’ obviously you are more likely to achieve your goal. In contrast, maximisers turn in their sleep, worrying that their work just needs one final tweak (or a major rewrite). It goes without saying that there are occasions when we need to go for total perfection, no mistakes – even it means a huge investment of time and energy. Like choosing your wife’s birthday card. In contrast I recall our tradesman Daryl who helped us move into our vicarage in Rochdale all those years ago. Fittingly his watchword was “Da r’ll do!” as he walked away from some half-finished project. At the time we could have done with a relentless perfectionist. So it’s a case of knowing when to stop, where to draw the line. The problem for the maximisers is that the last 2% of the task usually takes 20% of the effort. So why not stop at 98%? As always we need wisdom, a gift of the Holy Spirit. Also a wife who makes us stay at it even though the sun is shining and my friends want to play. As it happens we see both approaches in the Bible, particularly the New Testament: maximisers and satisfiers. The Gospels go for perfection, clearly the result of much thought and planning. You can see this in their structure, such as Matthew’s skilful editing of Jesus’s ministry into five blocks of narrative with a matching five of discourse, marking each off with the phrase "When Jesus had finished.” Or how John has carefully selected just seven of Jesus’s miracles as "signs" culminating in the raising of Lazarus along with the seven "I am" discourses, culminating in Thomas's proclamation of the risen Jesus as "my Lord and my God, the climax of his Gospel. All this needs careful, diligent preparation and much thought. So Luke begins his Gospel, writing to Theophilus: “With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you.” (Luke 1:3) Similarly, Revelation, the last book in the New Testament, is also very carefully structured with four sequences of sevens, namely, the seven messages, seven seals, seven trumpets, and seven bowls. What you may not realise is how the writer has deliberately used certain words and phrases either four times, seven times, or two times, along with certain multiples, such as fourteen and twenty-eight. And then, as satisfiers, we have the immediacy of the letters, mainly from the apostle Paul, often written at speed and addressed to specific people in specific situations, usually as a second-best option. He would far prefer to be there in person and so there is a spontaneity in his writing which is both refreshing and direct. So Paul is writing a difficult letter to a problematic church. He is concerned that the Christians in Corinth are factional, lining up behind particular leaders. He writes “I thank God that I did not baptise any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptised in my name.” (1 Corinthians 1:15). But then he remembers that he actually did do one baptism and so rather rewrite, he hastily corrects himself in the following verse: “Yes, I also baptised the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptised anyone else.” And so once he finished his letter, off it goes. You get the feeling that Paul for one did not realise, so to speak, that he was writing scripture. I guess that if he did, he would have repeatedly missed his deadline! So here am I at mine and so hey, here it goes, today’s blog into an unsuspecting world.


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