The Peanut Butter Jar Theory of Perfection

Photo credit: Mary Thompson

If you were to open a brand new jar of peanut butter and try to get all the peanut butter out of the jar, how long would it take? You can use any tools you want so long as you bear in mind that the goal is to recover the peanut butter from the jar. So washing it down the drain does not help in accomplishing that goal.

I guess how long it would take largely depends on your definition of “all the peanut butter”.

Surely, within three or four minutes you could get basically all the peanut butter out of the jar. If you looked in the jar you would still see streaks and ribbons of peanut butter all over the inside of the jar but all of it put together wouldn’t add up to enough to make a respectable PB&J.

How much longer would it take to get it so that not one visible streak of peanut butter remained?

I’ve never tried it but my guess is maybe about an hour.

So let’s say you have the patience and determination to get every last bit of peanut butter out of the jar. Did you get it all? Have you done a “perfect” job of getting the peanut butter out?

Smell the jar.

It still smells like peanut butter. That’s a sign that there are still chemical traces of peanut butter left behind.

Remember, our goal was to recover the peanut butter from the jar. Not necessarily to use it for making a sandwich or anything useful, just to recover it and get it out of the jar.

Photo credit: Beau Giles

Now, if your definition of “all” the peanut butter is something like “all the peanut butter that’s useful in making sandwiches”, then you could easily do a perfect job of getting “all” the peanut butter out in three or four minutes.

If your definition is all the visible peanut butter, then you could probably do a perfect job in about an hour. Part of the point here is that you’ll start seeing diminishing returns on your effort after the first three or four minutes.

If your definition of “all” the peanut butter is every last chemical trace of the stuff, it may take considerably longer and require specialized tools or techniques. (Remember, trying to recover the peanut butter implies that we’re not contaminating it.) Again, the longer you keep at it and the closer you get to “perfect”, the more the returns on your effort diminish.

This principle can be applied to almost any area of life. When you do anything, you get about 80% or so of your results with relative ease. After that, each incremental advance you make toward 100% will increase the amount of time, effort and other resources needed to get there. And the rate of increase keeps increasing.

So the real first step toward greater productivity is to decide what perfect means to you for any given task. If you can settle for 80%-85% of “perfect”, you’ll get a lot more done.

Personally, I’d rather have 10 or 15 projects completed but only 85% perfect than to have just one project done to absolute perfection. Even if that one project is so immaculate that it makes angels weep.

 

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A Little Rain Must Fall

I live in Delaware, roughly midway between New York City and Washington, DC. Average rainfall in this part of the country is around 45″ (114cm).

Unless you’re a meteorologist, that probably doesn’t mean all that much to you. Heck, I live here and it doesn’t really mean much to me.

What I do know is that it’s very green here. I couldn’t even begin to guess how many different varieties of trees grow within 100 miles of me. Surely it’s in the thousands. I have ten different kinds in my back yard alone. There are at least twenty more among the other yards on my block.

I’ve read that Delaware is the 16th wettest state in the U.S. So I guess 45″ is quite a bit.

The thing is, how different do you suppose that would be if all 45″ came in a single day and we had no precipitation whatsoever for the remaining 364 days of the year?

It would be a very different place. Likely little or nothing could grow.

Same amount of rain… vastly different results.

The Tie-in

This actually does have something to do with marketing. At least in the roundabout way that I frequently approach things.

Or more precisely, it has to do with grant writing.

If you didn’t know, most non-profit organizations subsist on small individual donations and on large grants given by wealthy donors, philanthropic foundations and government agencies.

Grants aren’t exactly easy to get. You have to apply, go through a rigorous screening process and then even if you get grant money, it often comes with restrictions on how or when it can be used.

Still, the amounts make grants necessary for the survival of most non-profit organizations.

The application process is complex enough that there are professional grant writers to help guide organizations in applying for grant money and increasing their odds of actually getting approved for funding.

The tie-in is that few organizations get more than one or two grants per year. That’s a bit like a tree getting rain only one or two days of the year.

It becomes incumbent on those non-profits to manage their finances in such a way as to make those few infusions of funds last throughout the year. (Hence the reason so many ask for individual donations, which come with fewer strings and can be spread more evenly throughout the year.)

A Cottage Industry

Professional Grant Writing is a small, cottage industry. I suppose it should come as a surprise to no one that I offer grant writing as part of my menu of services offered.

In my mind, it just makes sense. As a professional writer trained in the art of persuasive writing, and as an avowed do-gooder hell-bent on saving the world, helping non-profit organizations get the funds they need to survive is just a natural fit.

Do you belong to or know of a non-profit organization that needs funds? Help me on my mission to save the world by putting us in contact with each other!

(You didn’t really think this article was going to be about rainfall, did you?)

 

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The Dark Side of Ownership

Like most people, when I was young I didn’t own much. Everything I owned could easily be packed up in a pickup truck if I needed to move from Point A to Point B. Now, everything I own can’t even fit into one building.

You might be tempted to envy me or to think that’s a good thing. But lately I’ve been changing my thinking about why we own things.

Almost everything you own is because you needed that thing at one time or anticipated a high likelihood that you would need it in the future. (In this context, pure enjoyment counts as “need”.) Whether it’s a lawnmower, a chainsaw, a microwave oven, a glass knick-knack or even a ball-point pen, you bought that thing so that you would have unfettered use of it when the need arose.

Image courtesy of MoreSatisfyingPhotos.com

Let’s just say that you own a sailboat (we all should be so lucky), but now you live nowhere near the water. Or perhaps it has some mechanical problem that makes it unseaworthy. You still own it but without the benefit of being able to use it.

As it turns out, what we’re really after most of the time is the use of things and not so much the outright ownership of them.

Granted, there are times when frequency of use makes ownership more practical than alternatives like borrowing or renting. Other factors may also be at play. For instance, the “ick-factor” ensures that you would rather own your toothbrush than simply have use of some random toothbrush when you need it.

On the other hand, time-shares continue to be popular because it’s a much cheaper alternative than owning a vacation home. (Or a whole network of them in various places you might like to visit.) On-demand car rental companies like Zipcars have become popular for much the same reason. For that matter, streaming media such as on-demand movies further leverage the use-is-better-than-ownership philosophy.

Where am I going with this?

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure. This is a bit of an exploration of the concept.

I’m interested in learning what thoughts others have on the topic. Please feel free to comment below. Perhaps it will help my own thoughts become more coherent and well-formed.