Slow Action Lets Down Good Strategy

"A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan next week." General George S. Patton, Jr.

Hi, my name is Alicia McKay, and I'm a recovering perfectionist. (Don't ask my kids, they'll tell you differently). Perfectionism sucks, because it's a disorder masquerading as an attribute. This is one of those flaws that secretly feels like an asset, right? The thing you keep up your sleeve for job interviews...

Interviewer: "What would you consider to be your biggest weakness?"

Smug Interviewee: "Sometimes I'm just a real perfectionist and do things too well. (smiles sweetly). I'm working on it though."

Well, you should. Because perfectionism is now empirically proven to drive down happiness and - relevant to today's email -  makes productivity plummet.

The modern (and less violent) version of the above quote would be:

 "Done is better than perfect."

This one is plastered all over the walls at Facebook, to encourage engineers to take action and learn quickly, so that progress is made faster before the world moves on without them.

You get the point. Which is NOT that faster is always better - but that good thinking which is executed swiftly beats perfection delivered later (or not at all!)


The pressure to be perfect is getting worse, thanks to the increase in socially-driven comparison. We all know what our neighbours are doing, how other agencies are innovating, who's received funding and awards for what - and it's a killer.

"Comparison is the thief of joy" - Theodore Roosevelt

According to recent research, this type of comparison-induced perfectionism raises stress and slows execution, making it difficult to get started.

Like most things, Iceland has it figured out. Apparently, we need to be a bit more realistic and worry less about doing the wrong thing - and more about doing nothing!

This is largely a social problem, with a social solution. Does your team celebrate wins more than it mourns losses? Is failure stigmatised in your board, Council or community? Is it more acceptable to do nothing, or get it wrong the first time?

Organisations that worry more about taking action, less about what others are doing and focus on promoting the good stuff (instead of punishing the stuff ups) consistently outperform the slow ones who fear the fallout from mistakes. Yes, even in the public sector. Create accountability for taking action and getting engaged and reward the movers.

Or, as Nicholas Taleb more elegantly puts it - "trial and error is freedom."


Good decisions are often made slowly. When we are grappling with complexity, risk and uncertainty, we should slow down to speed up.

The problem is when we get the formula all wrong. When we dedicate time and energy to trivial issues, tick off major investments without asking the right questions, and muck around when it's time to kick into action.

Knowing when to slow down, when to act decisively and how to promote swift execution is core business for any executive team, board or Council.

Having the right frameworks and capability to assess decision significance and apply appropriate treatments is a vital piece of the puzzle to slow down for strategy, speed up for immaterial and MOVE when we've made a choice.

Idiot-proofing decision frameworks and developing decision-skills aren't luxury items - they're a necessity for anyone spending other people's money and trying to create impact.

Building this capability stops decision makers from reinventing the wheel every time something tricky pops up and provides internal and external confidence in decisions for faster and more decisive execution.



  • Ask your team questions like:

    • "What's stopping us from delivering this faster?"

    • "How could we test or pilot this approach?"

  • Create simple frameworks for decisions that evaluate risk, significance and complexity


  • Foster an organisational culture that rejects perfectionism - where a lack of action is more stigmatised than failure

  • Commit to an accountability framework - where deadlines and timeframes are taken seriously

  • Build decision capability amongst decision makers and senior leaders.


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