Ward Kimball was an animator for the Walt Disney Studios in the 1930’s. He was on the team for the first full-length animated feature by the Disney studio, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). He spent 240 days working on a single four-and-a-half-minute scene. In that scene, the dwarfs were cooking a meal for Snow White, and he covered every detail. 240 days. When it came time to review the film, Walt Disney personally reviewed the scene and commented, “That scene is hilarious. It’s terrific.” Then, he added, “but, I think it interrupts the flow of the movie, so we need to cut it out.” Just like that, 240 days of work is scrapped.
Most enlightening was Kimball’s reaction. Kimball responded, “Sometimes in life we have to eliminate the good, to pursue the great.” Kimball was unfazed, and not defensive, just focused on the end product.
This is perhaps the hardest thing for any company to do: eliminate the good. The good is ‘good enough’, or “it’s not hurting anything’, or ‘why not keep it going’, etc. But, the pursuit and continuance of the good prevents a company from pursuing the great.
Many companies nurture the good, often subconsciously. It could be characterized as an act of omission vs. commission. I believe this phenomenon exists for a single reason: many companies, divisions, or units have not taken the time to define ‘great’. Instead, they go through the motions of the ‘good’, subconsciously ignoring the ‘great’.
If you challenge someone with defining ‘great’ for their organization, the typical response is to benchmark the competition. The challenge with this approach is that the definition of ‘great’ for every organization is a product of their situation and unique advantages (or disadvantages). Accordingly, it is rare that you can determine ‘great’ by looking externally.
Eliminate the good: fairly easy to know what to do, but hard to do it. Pursue the great: hard to define and even harder to do.