90 Percent of Everything Is Crap

Learning this one adage can release you to focus on what matters.

What’s the difference between a performance culture that focuses on the positive and one that focuses on the negative?

It’s okay to focus on the negative—the misses and the missteps—in defining performance, but success doesn’t live in the negative.

Here’s a funny observation: When we are down on people and processes and investments and strategies, we focus on what’s not performing.  We find the flaws.

You’ve probably seen it in play.  You read the performance review of a person who’s out of favor, and it’s rife with articulation of the negatives. “Fails to do this, avoids this, lacks this, shirks that.”  We become so quick to criticize based on flaws that we don’t realize something critical: Doing so is a losing strategy.  Why?  Because 90 percent of everything is crap.  This phrase, commonly known as Sturgeon’s Law, implores us to evaluate things based on their strengths, not their shortcomings.

Even the best of performers have a flaw, or ten.  If you focus on the negative aspects of people, strategies, and performance, you will inevitably find them, no matter where you search. So the most honest appraisal of anything is to look at the peak of its performance.  It’s to look at the 10 percent of a person’s work that reflects their best effort—what reflects their best performance—and then to compare and act.

I’ve witnessed talent processes that have clearly focused on strengths, and I’ve witnessed others that focused on flaws, but one thing stands out:  Talent systems that focus on flaws reject more good talent than those that focus on strengths.

Why? Because when their talent ecosystem focuses on flaws, business leaders who take on the hardest assignments run the highest risk of being fired, regardless of their intrinsic talent. When the same leader is in a talent ecosystem that focuses on strengths, their tough assignments become opportunities to show strengths that are not evident in other circumstances.  At worst, a very strong manager in a tough situation gets reassigned, not resigned to the dustbin.

The same can be said for strategy.  A strategy that racks up a few losses early can be thrown out when flaws are the focus, but long-term success depends on defining strengths, not avoiding weaknesses.

So, 90 percent of everything is crap.  Knowing that, focus on the strengths in the people and concepts around you.

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