Rewarding mediocrity harms society’s wellbeing

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Local government issues like maintaining cleanliness go - Photograph: Jiran

Instead of striving for perfection, what we have is a slipshod and half-baked approach to work that has resulted in such an unsatisfactory state of affairs all over, laments Angry Malaysian.

I cannot agree that striving for perfection is something that is damaging and should be avoided.

I am neither a physiologist nor an educator and cannot comment on the physiological impact or the morale-sapping impact of too much emphasis on perfection.

But I have been a staff and boss, at different times and at the same time as well, and can vouch for the crucial importance of this striving for ‘perfection’, although it is not a measurable quantity.

Perfection should not be mistaken with being fussy or nitpicking. Perfection is not that. In my mind, I define perfection as just getting it right, as much right as possible.

I had my work assignments – whether letters, reports or financial statements – ripped apart by my superiors for errors I did not spot or just stylistic differences. I admit that at that point I wanted to just crack the bosses head but that feeling gave way to understanding of the need for quality of work, especially when clients are paying thousands if not millions of dollars for the output.

In turn, I have changed my subordinates’ work as many times as well. I am unsure if my subordinates have suffered any mental breakdown due to it; they most definitely didn’t like it at that point. But later when they had left for other offices, they admitted that the experience was worth it and in turn they moan about the lack of quality at their new place.

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It is just a cycle that everyone goes through and should go through. In turn, it shapes our everyday approach to things that we do. It is paramount.

It is the opposite of perfection – or rather, a lackadaisical approach – that should be abhorred.

If everyone who is paid to undertake a job or function carries out their work with ‘perfection’ in mind, our country would prosper, and we would have a much more fulfilling and easier life.

If local councils take their work seriously, ‘perfectly’ cleaning our streets and drains, perfectly processing our business and renovation applications, and perfectly spendong the money collected from ratepayers, our local environment would be superb.

Alas, it is not to be. A slipshod and half-baked approach to work has resulted in such an unsatisfactory state of affairs all over. Rubbish not cleared, drains clogged, broken pavements not repaired, abandoned cars and furniture not removed.

Incidentally, the lack of ‘perfection’ amnog citizens contributes to the above malaise. Instead of perfectly putting their rubbish in allocated bins, they dish it out all over. Inst’sead of perfectly parking their vehicles in allocated spaces, they leave them all over.

Just look at countries that emphasise perfection in everything they do. Germany, Japan and Singapore come to mind. See the difference it makes to the nation’s wellbeing and how things are done and maintained.

Successful sports teams strive for perfection, making as few mistakes as possible. This is what perfection is all about. Doing what we do as well as we can do. If it means rewriting a report 10 times, so be it. If it means sweeping the road three times to get it clean, so be it.

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Rewarding mediocrity, such as awarding land and honours for winning some unknown local or regional tournament poses a real danger to society’s wellbeing – not the striving for perfection.

Mind you, you may be even called disloyal if you point out good examples from other countries who have been there and done that. I am unsure how this is any worse than spending on annual ‘lawatan sambil belajar’ overseas trips.

People who just don’t care about their work output, no matter how trivial we may think it is, are the real bane of society. The inability to do simple things properly is a most dangerous culture as it will eventually grow and becomes a habit in everything we do.

Let me just outline simple examples that I have seen lately that best illustrate my point:

  • A bank sends out email notices titled ‘A transaction will take place in your account’ when the transaction has already taken place, ensuring confusion to recipients
  • A leisure club sends out an email saying ‘This will replace the hard copy from now onwards’ although the hardcopy had been discarded two years ago.
  • Road and railway construction companies think it is perfectly all right to severely damage the area they are working, posing an inconvenience to motorists, without blinking an eye. And the regulators let them get away with it. If you ask them, a standard “has complied with all necessary regulations and were in accordance with the authorities’ requirements’ will be the reply. To me all this means the regulations and requirements are not perfect and need more teeth.
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The above are such minor ‘offences’ – but they are recurring everywhere. Unfortunately, we have now come to accept ‘mediocrity’ as a new ‘perfection’ This is not about language or grammar; it is purely about the lack of care or a couldn’t-care-less attitude prevalent among all walks of society these days, especially the younger generation.

If you are a big company and have ample resources, there are no excuses for making errors as compared to individuals in their daily routine.

Mediocrity is now being rewarded; some even boast about it in social media without any shame. Those who emphasise perfection are perceived as the new public enemy No 1. They are invariably regarded as loony and and in need of behavioural change. In our daily lives, we can see the results of this lackadaisical approach.

I don’t think we can ever be perfect in anything; however, striving for perfection should be the national philosophy.

Angry Malaysian is the pseudonym of an Aliran reader who is always angry because the bright future of Malaysia has been eroded by incompetence, nepotism, apathy, laziness, racism, double standards and arrogance.

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