Complacency is always a risk, more so when we profess to be immune to it. Sometimes, achieving organizational and business goals is tough. So it sounds unreasonable to ask people to be unsatisfied even in a healthy manner. Is very good not good enough? We delivered what we promised, is this not much better than aiming to unrealistic goals and not delivering?
But healthy restlessness about doing even better, is a good engine when exercised with good spirits. Mike Eskew who was the chairman of UPS from 2002 to 2007 used the term ‘constructive dissatisfaction’ to refer to that healthy restlessness, as I call it. It’s not masochistic thinking; it’s a serious and legitimate aspirational drive.
My favourite quote, that I repeat like a parrot in my speaking engagements and consulting work, and that I use with care, is that of Michelangelo, that bizzarro e fantastico, 16th Century inventor of multi-tasking:
‘The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it’.
One of the problems with modern Western education is that sometimes settles too early for the easy achievable, for a permanent Q&A that converts schooling into a very long quiz, in which having predictable answers for even more predictable questions is the highest reward, no matter how useless the questions maybe and how cut an paste the answers can be given. We are killing curiosity early in life and, with that death, the aspirations to reach those not easy goals and possibilities.
Business life is not isolated from the culture and the education system. If aspiration is not there is because education system did not nurture it. The opposite is true as well. Aspiration is contagious. It breeds in families, in schools and then in adult life and business life. It is a core attribute of leadership, if there is one.
Setting aspirational goals can be done in many ways. There is the useless macho style that may end up in disappointment if not tears. There is the lip services style that is not aspirational at all but it uses the word a lot. There is also the true aspirational style (restlessness, dissatisfaction, Michelangelo aim) that could be easily role-modeled and spread.