Don’t settle

My original working title for Innovation Principle 20 was "Don't settle".  This principle was inspired by one of my colleagues at IDEO, who has showed me again and again the value created by not giving up on an idea until the quality of its expression matches the magnitude of its potential.  

I evolved the messaging of Principle 20 to "Be remarkable" because I wanted it to feel more aspirational and open-ended, but it some ways I always go back to the phrasing "don't settle" in my head.  To be honest, I've been struggling with the wording on this one.  Is it about being remarkable?  Or is about sticking to your guns, never letting anything go?  While I'm a firm believer in embracing mediocrity in order to get the ball rolling, I'm also a stickler for doing amazing stuff.  Are these two at all compatible?

When I read this article about chef Daniel Boulud a couple of years ago, I filed it away under the heading "don't settle".  I just took another look at it, and noted this passage:

But during Round 8 of recipe tests, on Tuesday, he refuses to grade on the curve. He stoically appraises entrees and appetizers in what feels like a marathon episode of “Top Chef” — except that this judge has helped conceive the dishes and never seems very pleased by the results.

The lamb ribs confit with roasted lamb leg and spring beans? “Maybe a little more herbs in it,” he suggests. The Maryland lump crab cake with a curry sauce and pickled radish? “More crab, less garnish.” The passion fruit crepe with mango slices? “We’re still not there.”

We sit across from Mr. Boulud, shamelessly pillaging the leftovers and thinking: huh? Each dish seems head-spinningly yummy, but Mr. Boulud summons enthusiasm only when he tries a sausage called the Vermonter, and he cracks a smile only after a forkful of beer-battered haddock beignets.

“I think it’s good,” he says, like a man enjoying a guilty pleasure.

This excerpt hints at the relationship between "don't settle" and "be remarkable".  When it comes to the lamb and the crab cake and the fruit crepe, he's saying "keep working on it — not remarkable enough yet".  Not settling.  But when he tastes something over the bar, such as the beer-battered fish beignets, he celebrates the outcome.  I think that's the key: if you don't have the honesty to recognize something remarkable when it happens, people around you will think nothing will ever make you happy, and from that point forward you'll always be operating in a climate of fear.  And a working climate infused with fear never ever never ever takes us to a happy place:

This principle is about a stepwise journey toward a remarkable endpoint.  It is fueled by trust, a trust that none of us will settle for anything less than being remarkable.  But it also requires a shared trust that it is okay to deliver an interim step that is less than perfect.  In other words, we need to be okay with each of us failing as individuals if we're ever going to reach somewhere remarkable together.  I can't imagine that perfect fish-flavored beignets could ever happen right on the first shot, you know?