Once, back when I was a reporter in rural South Carolina, I covered a quality initiative at a local textile plant. They had a rally, gave some speeches and hung banners all over the place proclaiming, “Zero defects is our goal.”
I found the whole thing sort of frightening, but fortunately the workers didn’t seem to pay too much attention to it one way or the other.
However, over the years I’ve wondered why I thought the “zero defects” campaign was so outlandish.
I kind of do the same thing to myself.
What about you? When you knock over a coffee cup, misplace your keys or forget that key item at the grocery store, do you call yourself names, question your intelligence and otherwise verbally slap yourself around?
These are only human errors. People make them all the time. But we – by which I mean myself and other self-flagellating types – seem to think we shouldn’t behave like regular humans.
And if we act like this about trivial, everyday things, we’re even worse at work, which can delay projects, increase costs, decrease employee satisfaction and even, in a curious way, prevent identification of real, systemic problems.
Some might fear that accepting a few slip-ups, like a formatting snafu in an internal document or a stain on a tie, could lead to complete sloppiness and the downfall of Western civilization.
But I don’t think it was typos that did in Ancient Rome. Of course, little mistakes could sink an advertising campaign or scientific formula, so it’s essential to identify when perfectionism is necessary and when it’s not.
While I don’t have an answer for why we beat ourselves up over the inconsequential, I have a metaphor.
It involves the term “margin of error,” a statistical phrase meaning the amount of error expected in a survey result.
I would like a bigger “margin of error” with life’s pesky details, and I might know how to get one.
You see, statistically speaking, the “margin of error” is equal to half the width of the “confidence interval.”
Could this mean that the bigger my “confidence interval” the greater the “margin of error” I could allow myself?
Is upping one’s self-assurance the ticket to calling off the zero defects chase?
I’ll look into it.
Of course, I know that in statistics “confidence” doesn’t have much to do with personal certainty and you don’t actually want a large margin of error, but cut me some slack, won’t you? I’m working on a concept here.
“Cut me some slack?” Now that’s an interesting turn of phrase…
by Danielle Dresden