Embracing Mediocrity (or, Good Enough to Ship)

broken bird

I presented at the Society for Technical Communication in Dallas this year.

My presentation had a few slides on the value in shipping a document that gets a C grade, vs. delivering late (or not at all) because you were trying to get an A. I talked about which things you need to fix, and which you just have to learn to live with in order to ship on time.

In the end, those few slides got a lot of Q&A time.

After the presentation, I checked Twitter, and saw this tweet:

The unofficial title of this class must be “embracing mediocrity”… awesome

Ouch.

The comment hurts, but not because the message is wrong. It hurts because it shows that I did a poor job getting my message across.

So I’m going to try again, without the rest of the presentation to get in the way.

We All Embrace Mediocrity

In his prime, Leonardo Da Vinci could probably have beaten the likes of me in ANY competition. (Today, of course, I breathe better than he does.)

But most of us aren’t Da Vincis. We have strengths and weaknesses, and we live with them. Some weaknesses, we work on. Others we accept.

Acceptance is ok. If I spent all my time working on my jump shot, I’d end up with no money, no family, and (let’s face it) only an average jumpshot. Put me in the NBA and see what I mean.

And then there are the things we could easily change, but don’t. About twice a week, as I wash my face, I bang my head on the medicine cabinet over my faucet. Why haven’t I replaced that cabinet? My bed is squeaky. Has been for years. Am I alone here?

I don’t have the time, energy, or money to make everything perfect. So I accept mediocrity on the less important things, and work to perfect the more important ones.

But, believe it or not, I’m not saying to be a mediocre writer. I’m not! I’m really not!

What Makes a Good Writer?

Ok, I may be saying to be a mediocre writer. But only if you define “good writer” in very strict terms.

Dream definition of a good writer: Someone who writes stuff really well. Who varies the cadence and style so as to produce the best possible effect on the reader. Who omits every needless word, kills his darlings, replaces “that” with “which” when appropriate, and could bounce a quarter off every tight sentence.

Wow! That’s a good writer. But then, is this the writer that your boss wants?

Because, when you have 3 docs due by lunch, the SME on a different coast, and an empty coffee pot, your boss doesn’t give a dangling modifier about “that” and “which.”

What your boss thinks is a good writer: Someone who writes stuff really well. Who delivers helpful, non-confusing, accurate prose that keeps customers from calling us, and lawyers from suing us. Who puts the quarter in the company’s pocket, where it belongs, and above almost everything else, does it on time.

My employer doesn’t pay me to fulfill my creative side. My employer didn’t hire a poet. A Tech Writer is “good” only to the degree that he or she can provide value to the employer and the customer.

And at this point, I’d better stop polishing this post and ship it.

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