03 May 2004  What Do YOU Think?

How Much Is Enough?

A new book by Laura Nash and Howard Stevenson, Just Enough, suggests four dimensions for looking at personal success: happiness, achievement, significance, and legacy. Is this a useful way for hardworking managers to gauge their sense of self-worth?

 

Summing Up

The concept of "just enough" triggered the sensitivities of many of us, judging from the quantity of responses to this month's column. Respondents divided themselves not into the usual pro and con camps, but into those further defining the problem, those offering responses, and those posing questions about how we should think about "just enough." Bill Thompson put in words what a number of the respondents seemed to assume when he said, "I believe that the current, quasi-obscene disparities [in income] between top management and employees is one of the most demotivating and performance-numbing aspects of corporate life." Expanding the idea beyond effects on the organization, Sharika Kaul said, "... it's no fun being the only guest at your own party. The really smart people know this and build their relationships ..."

A number of respondents helped frame the challenge of "just enough." For example, Saurabh Dwivedy commented, "So long as there is humankind, there will be unfulfilled desires and broken dreams and a longing for 'being there.'" Pointing out the distinction between "sheer wealth and financial security," Aamir Rehman commented that "the lifestyles of some executives make them unstable despite their wealth." Fernando das Neves Gomes diagnosed the problem in this thoughtful way: "I think much of the time the big problem we face is when top executives start dealing with company results as their own personal results; and do the reverse too, dealing with family as just a company exercise." Tak Okamoto suggested that the concept poses real problems for managers. As he put it, "I judge 'just enough-ness' on the marginal utility of effort for one choice as compared to the others. As a manager, this is very complex because one must consider not only what is just enough for the firm and each employee, but also each employee's perception of what is just enough." It raises the question about whether one person can determine what is "just enough" for another.

What advice do respondents have for those facing these challenges? John Cockerill suggested that "looking forward to the future is the motivation for the present... Just remember where you came from. Be realistic about where you will end up." Marc Sylvain advised," The emphasis needs to be on process, on the journey, not on end points." Marc Michaelson reminded us that "when individuals manage their lives well, they make better teams and stronger organizations."

Respondents also provided some useful questions for us to think about. Mridula Dwivedi asks, "When organizations follow maximum profit/wealth, why not individuals?" Mark Porter posed the question in a different way, saying, "It seems that we have somewhat of a paradox if we are able to determine a threshold of 'just enough' in our personal lives, yet in our organizational lives we must continue to push for more." But Mal Watlington poses perhaps the most challenging question: "The history of philosophy is filled with great thinkers who advise us to seek balance in life, yet the history of the world appears to be driven by those who take things to extremes. Why is this so?" What do you think?

Original Article

Recent estimates suggest that U.S. business organizations have attained the greatest disparity between the highest and lowest paid members of any in the world—and not by just a little. A growing number of observers are beginning to argue that this can't be a good thing for employees and their morale, customers, investors, or even American competitiveness. Now a case is being made for the possibility that this may not even satisfy the deep-seated needs of those anointed with mega-rewards, especially if each successive increase only leads to an even higher expectation on the part of those obsessed with "scorekeeping," regardless of their performance.

In their new book, Just Enough, Laura Nash and Howard Stevenson of Harvard Business School suggest a definition of success gleaned from interviews with, or surveys of, at least 150 successful professionals and executives as well as others from, as they say, all walks of life. According to them, success comprises a set of "desired ends": “happiness (feelings of pleasure or contentment in and about your life), achievement (accomplishments that compare favorably against similar goals others have strived for), significance (a positive impact on people you care about), and legacy (establishing your values or accomplishments in ways that help others find future success)." According to Nash and Stevenson's subjects, not all ends are achieved simultaneously even by those who have managed to achieve this kind of balance in their lives. In fact, it requires the capacity to concentrate on one or more dimensions of success up to the point of "just enough," then shift the emphasis to one or more other dimensions at various points in a lifetime. This kind of success is not achieved through the single-minded pursuit of any one of these things as if the goal were "never enough." In other words, the endless pursuit of any one of these goals may actually diminish one's success, as self-assessed at the end of long career.

Is this an exercise in amateur psychology? An effort to project the values of one group of managers who are on their way to "making it" onto the population of managers as a whole? Or is it the bedrock of a useful exercise in self-examination that might benefit particularly those whose pursuit of wealth in the executive suite has brought them unfavorable headlines, lawsuits and, at the extreme, jail time? Is it the kind of thinking that could, if translated into practical examples and exercises, benefit prospective MBAs in search of success? Or does the concept of "just enough" fly in the face of attempts to command, through performance incentives, the total dedication and time of those most able to lead value-creating change? What do you think?

To learn more:

Laura Nash and Howard Stevenson, Just Enough: Tools for Creating Success in Your Work and Life (Wiley, 2004).

Comments

    • Mark Porter
    • Manager, CUNA Mutual Group

    In the "just enough" debate, I wonder how to reconcile that philosophy with the business view that continuous growth is essential for an organization to continue to thrive?

    It seems that we have somewhat of a paradox if we are able to determine a threshold of "just enough" in our personal lives, yet in our organizational lives we must continue to push for more. Or not?

     
     
     
    • Tak Okamoto
    • President & CEO, Afia Corporation

    I judge "just enough-ness" on the marginal utility of effort for one choice as compared to the others. As a manager, this is very complex because one must consider not only what is just enough for the firm and each employee, but also each employee's perception of what is just enough.

     
     
     
    • Matt Crichton
    • CyberY developer, YMCA

    I work for a YMCA because I think success is when all people in a community are successful, not just one person. And I work at the Y to try and do that ... even if in a small way.

     
     
     
    • Anubhav
    • Engineer, THL

    Money holds the maximum importance in one's life until one point in time; after that it loses its relevance. What most people fail to realize is that the biggest pleasures in life often come dirt-cheap.

     
     
     
    • Daniel Pi

    It appears that these desired ends serve an underlying emotional need. For example, the legacy dimension may be underpinned by a need for relinquishing an indulgent, selfish past. What is of interest is the proposition that only one dimension can be achieved at any given time. It would therefore introduce the possibility that achievers will never reach "enough" in all dimensions at a given time, and that we are in fact chasing a moving target. Could it then be hypothesized that achievers never really achieve all their goals?

     
     
     
    • Ananth
    • Analyst, Longs Drugs

    In my opinion, "freedom" is a good way to identify how much is "just enough." For example, in the financial dimension, if you are poor you do not have the freedom to do what you want to do since you may have to spend time working for money. If you have too much, you may not have freedom to do what you want to do since you are too busy securing and managing what you have. This freedom rule-of-thumb can be applied to other dimensions of life.

     
     
     
    • Anonymous

    Don't forget it: "He has most who needs least." Don't create needs for yourself.

     
     
     
    • Anonymous

    In thinking about the question, "How much is enough?" we must first define our terms: How much of what—success, wealth, recognition, power? And in what context—a fortune 500 company, a small biotech start-up, a nonprofit helping the homeless? In an article on how overachievers in Manhattan were evaluating success or their status relative to their peers, which appeared in The New York Times several years ago, the number one factor by far was the "success/achievement" of their children—where they went to school, who their friends were, their professional achievements/jobs/careers. What does this tell us about the real definition of success/happiness which seems to be behind the question "How much is enough?"

    Once we start to examine what I believe most HBS grads would agree is the real or implied question, namely "How do I achieve happiness/contentment/satisfaction in my life?" we realize that before consideration of even family or "success of children" we must start with good health. Obviously without one's health nothing else matters. This immediately raises the issue of genetics and, therefore, fate. If I inherit a deadly genetic disease, it doesn't matter how much money I have or how powerful I am because nobody is going to want to trade places with me.

    Ultimately we have to recognize that luck and circumstance can play an outsized role in our existence, which is sometimes not fully appreciated at institutions such as the Harvard Business School. The question "How much is enough?" has no answer since it depends entirely on each individual's circumstances, values, expectations, and fate.

     
     
     
    • Alan Russell
    • Business Analyst

    The disparity in pay in the U.S. economy has gotten out of hand. No matter which angle I consider, I cannot justify the multi-million dollar salaries of CEOs, entertainers, or professional sports figures. I heard recently about a sports figure who decided to stay with his current team, passing up a multi-million dollar bonus for joining another team. As a result his salary for the coming year will be "only" $1.75 million.

    Once one has reached a place where income is sufficient to meet one's basic needs (housing, food, clothing), happiness should be defined by how one is able to contribute back to society and to others. Being "other-oriented" instead of self-oriented can bring happiness; just having "more" will never bring happiness.

     
     
     
    • Anonymous

    The borderline for "enough" is when you start spending more time managing and maintaining your rewards than you do enjoying them.

     
     
     
    • Aamir Rehman
    • HBS MBA 2004

    It occurs to me that financial stability is a threshold variable for happiness—something we need but which, after a point, is no longer a meaningful driver of happiness.

    I'd also point out the distinction between sheer wealth and financial security: The lifestyles of some executives make them unstable despite their wealth.

     
     
     
    • Deepak Alse
    • System Design and Sustenance Engineer, Wipro Technologies

    Happiness, achievement, significance, legacy... "Just Enough!" Managers and leaders are expected to deliver results in a constantly changing world, and as such will always need to pursue these four ends in a strategic manner. These four ends can be strategically chosen by any individual as tools to sharpen one's focus in different work scenarios. Legacy: the frame that should define the goals; significance: the frame that defines the right moment for action; achievement: the frame of benchmarking; happiness: the frame of expectations.

     
     
     
    • John Cockerill
    • Manufacturer, Exquisite Heat

    In the process of attaining goals, we spend a lot of time working. The first realization is that there is not enough time for everything. You plan, you create, you execute the most important priorities. You contemplate the future, your vision, your path, hoping to get to it all in time. Looking forward to the future is the motivation for the present. This does not demand that we be cruel, impersonal, criminal, or greedy. Just remember where you came from. Be realistic about where you will end up.

     
     
     
    • Anonymous

    We continue to lie to ourselves that there are ways to produce total dedication through incentives, rewards, etc. The fallacy of the current corporate incentive system is rooted in our earliest educational experiences--A's, rewards, and so on. Why this doesn't work is well documented by another Harvard researcher, Alfie Kohn, in his book, Punished By Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise, and Other Bribes.

    I very much appreciate this body of work and hope that corporations will actually use it in meaningful ways.

     
     
     
    • Anonymous

    Money is nonlinear. For the starving family a hundred dollars is the difference between life and death; for the freshly minted MBA, a hundred thousand is "fair value"; for today's CEO a hundred million is their "just reward."

    The most significant money I've made, in terms of life-changing money, was in December 1985. My wife was eight months pregnant with our first child, we had just moved into our first house, and we were mortgaged to the hilt. A potential buyer of our company put $150,000 dollars in my pocket with an option payment. Nothing I have made since has had the same impact on my day-to-day stress level.

    Another way of thinking about it: What is better? A company that creates a single billionaire or one that creates a thousand millionaires? I know where I'd rather work.

     
     
     
    • Marc Sylvain

    Getting enough (and more) ... the search for success ... "making it" ... achieving goals: each of these ideas is put forward as propelling the pursuit of wealth by managers. The emphasis needs to be on process, on the journey, not on end points.

    Isn't the practical lesson from Nash and Stevenson's work the observation that few people conducting a self-assessment of "success" at the end of a long career rate money as a key element? Where they have regrets is that they concentrated too much on ends and goals instead of process. That as a result they gave short shrift to other parts of their lives and inner passions. That they wish now they had taken time to do things that they find, in retrospect, would have mattered more to them. Isn't that the meaning of "just enough" in this context? That how and what you do matter far more than where you get to?

    For many years Harvard Business School has run a program for executives called Odyssey: School for the Second Half of Life. There must be thousands of practical lessons that could be drawn from that experience which would be of tremendous value to MBA students. Most of the lessons, I would bet, would emphasize process and being driven by passion, not the pursuit of a set of chimerical ends.

     
     
     
    • Bill Thompson
    • CEO, Foredeck Enterprises, Inc.

    I believe that the current, quasi-obscene disparities [in income] between top management and employees is one of the most demotivating and performance-numbing aspects of corporate life. Intelligent, able people, many of whom are often arguably more committed to the organization's tangible long-term success than their politically-more-able, or more ruthless, or better-connected "superiors" feel degraded when they see self-serving, my-career-first power mongers accorded godlike omnipotence and rewards, despite what is often illusory "superior corporate performance." Greed and ambition now rule over dedication, commitment, and a genuine interest in healthy management.

     
     
     
    • Fernando das Neves Gomes
    • Independent Consultant/principal

    Here are a few things that all of us can classify as enough:

    Living in respectable conditions; food; clothing; social guaranties; respect as an individual with our own differences; educational access.

    I see a big difference between our personal life and professional life, even knowing that almost all the time they interact with each other. I think much of the time the big problem we face is when top executives start dealing with company results as their own personal results; and do the reverse too, dealing with family as just a company exercise.

     
     
     
    • Saurabh Dwivedy
    • Senior Engineer (Software), GE Consumer Finance

    When it comes to making MONEY, enough is never enough! If achievement were a milestone that was not open to comparison, achieving contentment wouldn't have been so difficult. The whole point about success is that the contentment it seeks to produce lasts only as long as you see the next person crossing the milestone you just achieved and were feeling great about.

    So long as there is humankind, there will be unfulfilled desires and broken dreams and a longing for "being there."

    Whether it's a case for amateur psychologists or an MBA project, these are just plain, simple, facts of life.

     
     
     
    • Marc Michaelson
    • Partner, The Glowan Consulting Group

    I have been involved in the facilitation of balance-related topics for the past twenty-five years.

    The relationship between personal balance and personal performance is not a standardized formula. Some people will experience high-level performance as a result of personal balance practices and skills, while others gain their performance edge from total dedication and focus to an individual goal. The personal balance values, habits, and skills will provide a base from which one can "take time out from balance" to give full focus to an activity—then return to balance to replenish energy and spirit—in order to come back to a work activity that requires narrow focus again. The key seems to be in the cycle of full focus—and the departure from balance in order to attain a goal—and then returning to balance for energy and spirit replenishment.

    When individuals manage their lives well, they make better teams and stronger organizations.
     
     
     
    • Abhishek Gupta
    • Software Architect/Engineer, American Financial Group

    It is too much to expect people to realize the futility of something they do not have. Buddha may never have become enlightened if he just had enough to get by. It was only his having everything at his disposal that made him realize the uselessness of it. He realized that he could not buy happiness, health, or immortality with all the money in the world because he had all the money and power in the world. But for most of us, the idea of tying happiness to wealth and power seems like a bankable dream since we do not have either of them in excess. Only those who have successfully made the journey to the end of the rainbow and have not found a pot of gold there realize that the gold was actually strewn all along the way; and that if they had cared to pick it up as they blindly pursued the distant dream, they would have succeeded in finding their much-cherished pot of gold at the end.

    We find happiness not in what we have on the outside, but in what it brings to life within us.

     
     
     
    • Sharika Kaul
    • Manager - Biz Dev & Comm

    I think there needs to be a balance among the choices we make in our lives. That's not to say that we should not pursue our goals ferociously, but those goals have to be met efficiently and effectively. We are who we are not because we are good in a particular career or good at being spouses, mothers, etc. I think it's a combination of everything and it has to be. To put it plainly, a great marital relationship will have a positive impact on the mental state of an employee who will be more positive in a work environment. But building personal relationships requires one to put the other person first, which means taking time out from pursuing one's personal goals.

    How many of us are willing to do that? I think it's one thing to be successful and then it's another thing to enjoy it. And it's no fun being the only guest at your own party. The really smart people know this and build their relationships, and look at goals and payoffs after looking at the costs involved in achieving those.

    It seems very calculating, but if one wants to "have the cake and eat it too," then one has to be very calculating in choosing what is truly right. This skill of choosing right, in most cases, is something only hindsight can provide. But there is always a choice. The question is whether we have the sense to see it and the courage to exercise it.

     
     
     
    • Mennen Aracid
    • Faculty, De La Salle University

    The individual and the organization should first define what "enough" is. It is that bar of excellence people aim for. If that bar is not defined, individuals and organizations become confused about their true goals. When this happens, it is as if the bar were a moving target: always tentative, forever elusive.

    Although the goals are met, the individual or the organization will never give himself or itself due credit. No true satisfaction will ever take place even though the results may be truly remarkable.

     
     
     
    • Mal Watlington
    • President, City Square Consulting, Inc.

    The history of philosophy is filled with great thinkers who advise us to seek balance in life, yet the history of the world appears to be driven by those who take things to extremes. Why is this so? It may have to do with having an external frame of reference as a key driver of personality. Those who get their cues from what others think of them may have a much harder time conducting the interior dialogue that leads to balance. Or, as those familiar with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator know, executives and entrepreneurs are most often grouped with the "E" (extrovert) types, not the "I's" (introvert). So the fundamental question becomes, can we defeat human nature?

     
     
     
    • Mridula Dwivedi
    • Senior Lecturer, Institute of Technology and Management, Gurgaon, India

    When organizations follow maximum profit/wealth, why not individuals? I do not see top management philosophy changing due to psychology-induced arguments. If at all, it will change out of necessity.

     
     
     
    • Ben Teehankee
    • Faculty, De La Salle University Graduate School of Business

    A reward system based on quantified material rewards will never satisfy for long. Man looks for more fundamental, unquantifiable things like those mentioned [in your column] such as significance and achievement. However, these are often more difficult to find, while the quantifiable is more specific and comparable. This leads to an overemphasis on the specific and comparable which immediately gratifies but doesn't really satisfy for long. The structure of business activity itself often favors the immediate over the more meaningful but longer-term goals. These are systemic problems that will need a shift in thinking to address.

     
     
     
    • C. J. Cullinane

    The question of balance in business and in life has been and is a question that every person must ask him- or herself. The answer is different for everybody. We do know that excess in anything leads to problems, and the more excess, the bigger the problems.

    We all know someone who was successful in one area of life but a failure in other aspects. When greed leads to criminal activities to feed the greed, then it is a problem for all of us and must be monitored and controlled. The fictional character Gordon Gekko said, "Greed is good!" But how much greed?

     
     
     
    • Dr. Charles Albano
    • Management Educator, Fairleigh Dickinson University

    In my mind the concept of "just enough" satisfies the nature of a sustainable, earned, and appreciated lifestyle. Contribution, not position and compensation, addresses the broader aspect of social responsibility. It is and always has been the true basis for leadership recognition.

    This topic is very timely. The income gap has stretched to the breaking point; it has grown well beyond rational justification. We must always bear in mind that true leadership and management accomplishments are totally dependent on the willing and enthusiastic support of "followers." Yet, a great many claims of outstanding leadership made to justify huge compensation differentials appear shallow and narrowly based.

    The literature of leadership research has long held that leaders IQs should not be much higher than those of their respective followers, in part because it impedes communication and rapport. Though I may be stretching the analogy, I think the same holds true for compensation, only with a twist. Just as a perceived gap in the former can impact on the quality of communication and trust between leaders and their followers, so, too, does the obvious, irksome, and unjustifiable compensation gap make for increasing distrust and resentment.

    From a personal values standpoint, I would maintain that the greatest business accomplishments are intimately connected to social contributions of a high order. I think most laypersons share this view when it comes to gauging businesspeople.

    I believe great leaders seek to benefit society through the widespread provision of goods and services that are valued. I support the notion that, at the end of the game, it is not how much one is paid that is the most telling indicator of a leader's life, but, rather, how much of a leader's legacy was directed to serving others by improving their lives at work, in their homes, and in their communities.

     
     
     
    • Lee H. Igel
    • ExerPsych Lifestyle Management

    Mega-rewards are an aesthetic goal. Most people who regularly visit a gym end up going into a workout with an aesthetic goal in mind. But people are, by and large, never truly satisfied with an aesthetic goal—specifically because the changes they achieve are "never enough." This thinking and behavior breed short-term satisfaction and success. Over the long term, people crash by virtue of "overtraining" in an effort to outperform their compatriots. By that point, their thinking and behaviors are focused on a personal bottom line (no pun intended), the company's bottom line be damned.

     
     
     
    • Anonymous

    There is a disparity between highest paid and lowest, but more than just monetary compensation is the problem. There is a feeling that rewards that fall on the highest-paid or most visible do not translate throughout the company. The average worker is responsible for healthcare costs while senior management is not, due to contracts and additional compensation.

    The lack of satisfaction comes from a feeling that each step forward is pushed back by a system. The “reward system” does not feel equal. Equal opportunity along with equal treatment would open up the number of managers able to participate in the “satisfaction” game.