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We Are Obsessed With the Wrong Question

Nothing is perfect, so we should stop wondering if it could be. Instead, we should ask ourselves this question.

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This story appears in the January 2023 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

We are obsessed with the wrong question.

We ask this question whenever we experience something new. Or create something new. Or see something new. We ask this question of new innovations. We ask it of new relationships and partnerships. Maybe we even ask it of ourselves.

Here's the question: Is this perfect?

This is a very easy question to answer: No! Nothing is perfect. Which makes this a terrible question. If you are evaluating something's worth based on whether it's perfect, then all you will find is imperfections. You will discard absolutely everything. That is not practical.

Related: Finding Beauty In The Imperfection

Instead, we must ask a much smarter question: Is our new problem better than our old problem?

With that question, we're making room for the reality of imperfection — because there will be problems! It's a guarantee. Once we accept that, we're able to track progress more realistically, and identify ways to improve going forward.

I'll give you an example.

As we all grapple with the future of work, some companies have begun implementing a four-day workweek. This fascinates me. Prior to the pandemic, it's unlikely that anyone would have taken a four-day workweek seriously — but now it's a reality for many workers. The impossible became commonplace.

Here are the results: The transition isn't easy, but once a company gets it right, productivity stays the same and workers are happier. It sounds like magic! But there's a problem: After about a year, workers start to say they're feeling disconnected from each other. That's what I heard from the then-director of people at Buffer, a tech company that implemented a four-day workweek, when I wrote a story about this movement a few issues ago.

Why are people feeling disconnected? Well, consider how four-day workweeks are possible. How can you eliminate one-fifth of the workweek, while maintaining the same level of productivity? The answer is, you eliminate as many meetings as possible! And people chitchat a lot less. What you gain in efficiency you lose in connectivity. So, what are leaders to do? This comes down to the question they ask.

Many might be tempted to ask: Is this perfect? We already know the answer: It is not! Sure, employees are happy about having more time off, but they're also drifting away from each other. If company culture is threatened, bad things could follow. Maybe this whole four-day workweek thing was a bad idea...

Related: If You Focus on Problems, You'll Only Find More Problems. Here's How to Focus on Solutions.

That is, until you ask the better question: Is our new problem better than our old problem?

Now we get a different answer, which would go like this: Before the four-day workweek, workers were feeling strained. Now their lives feel more balanced, and they are happier. Recruiting new talent is easier, as is retaining existing talent. Sure, people feel disconnected from each other — but is that a better problem than before? Yes, it is.

The new mission becomes clear: It's time to solve that better problem, and then start looking out for the next better problem.

Problems are not just signs of failure; they can also be signs of progress. We must learn to recognize and respect the difference. After all, even the greatest leaders will never achieve perfection. No company will grow infinitely and harmoniously. No individual will stroll easily between accomplishments.

The best we can do is improve. And then figure out where to improve next.

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