• Archive

Summing Up: Does the Idea of "Just Enough" Raise More Questions than Answers?

 
5/31/2004

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?