Perfection or nothing: the attitude that holds back innovation

Even in crisis or emergency situations, such as the one we are experiencing for Covid-19, the habit of rejecting everything that is not 100% effective is not lost, emphasizing its limits and possible problems.

Bad habits die hard. The subtle pleasure of criticizing everything that does not start from us or does not see us as protagonists if on the one hand satisfies the ego and increases self-consideration of ourselves, however, generates immobility and complicates any process of improvement and innovation.

Even in emergency or difficult situations, this attitude prevails over any common-sense reasoning.

As soon as a solution or measure is presented that can be taken to solve an important need, we assist to the crossfire of experts, pseudo-experts, critics starts, who are happy to identify real or supposed limits and problems.

Usually in this critical review there is no assessment of the real impact of the limit or lack found. Even if the solution satisfies 80% of the cases, thus solving an important need and a critical aspect, the missing 20% is for them a good reason to reject the solution and do nothing.

Almost always the do not supply any alternative proposal or a proactive attitude aimed at improving what others have thought and maybe achieved. It is either all or nothing, or perfection or it is better to forget about it, remaining in the current situation.

It often happens to me in my work to present innovative solutions that address areas not covered by any system, where there is little effectiveness or risks of which users are aware. At the beginning of the presentation, curiosity and interest in a solution that actually solves most of their problems prevails. At a certain point, however, someone starts to ask if the proposed solution is able to solve even that “particular case” that came to their mind; if the answer is negative, the attitude that I have described takes place. The specific case becomes the most important aspect of their problems, a matter of life or death.

I am therefore not surprised to see and experience for myself how this behaviour is complicating the fight against Covid-19. Let’s take the case of the Immuni app. Certainly not the perfect solution, I just have, on this blog, highlighted the technical limits it presents (precision, compatibility, operating model) but, nevertheless, it can provide an aid in the contact tracing process which, carried out manually, is not able to withstand the number of cases we are experiencing.

Does it only work on 80% of smartphones? Doesn’t it have 100% accuracy? Not bad, if it can give a contribution to contact tracing then it is useful. If we applied the same criterion to swabs and serological tests, we would not have any diagnostic tools because even these, especially the latter, have margins of error.

Another example. It would be useful to have a system that describes people’s network of relationships, reporting the composition of households, indicating where they go to school or work, maybe which places they attend. Clearly it is hard to find this information and also to manage the privacy aspect. Isn’t all the information there? Then it is better not to do anything.

By this I do not mean that we must be uncritical and enthusiastically welcome any solution or innovation. Those who read this blog know that innovation of value is a subject that is very dear to me and in which I believe deeply. Improvement and innovation, however, do not take place in 100% steps, but in subsequent increments, still ensuring benefits that allow then, once the most common problems have been solved, to refine the solutions and cover an increasing number of cases.

The desire or claim to perfection has counterproductive effects. It is necessary to be pragmatic and approach problems with a logical sense.

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