When "good enough" - isn't

Published: Sep 29 , 2013
Author: Mark Simpson

So the Americas Cup is finally over and four million plus Kiwi’s are in disbelief and mourning for what could and should have been. Emirates Team New Zealand were 8:1 up. How or earth could Oracle Team USA have staged one of the biggest come backs in sporting history to keep the Americas Cup? Quite easy really.

Was it the skill of the teams? Funnily enough – No. NZ takes pride in the fact that Dean Barker and the kiwi crew are top notch sailors. And despite the Aussies claiming the victory as theirs because Oracle had an Aussie skipper, we’d like to point out that their Mastermind, Russell Coutts, and at least another 3 of the crew are kiwis. In fact there were more Kiwi’s on Oracle than any other nationality, so in this respect NZ can claim the win.

NZ boat builders can certainly claim victory as most components of both teams boats were built here in NZ.

Clearly in the second half of the competition Oracle had a faster boat. They didn’t initially. So what happened?

Was it luck? Three races were stopped for a variety of reasons when ETNZ was in front and of course there was the near disastrous capsize. The rules of play were agreed by everyone beforehand, they could have as easily impacted the other side. Luck may always play a part but you can’t rely on it.

Some will claim it was just because Oracle had (Larry Ellison’s) deeper pockets. ETNZ spent a lot of money too, it wasn’t just as simple as that.

Playing the postponement card was a great move. Most people saw the adjournment as a sign of weakness “we’ve got them on the ropes” – wrong. Good negotiators take time out when their strategy is not working and they change it.

Oracle changed their team bringing in Ben Ainslie and Tom Slingsby. Their former tactician John Kostecki was good but they weren’t winning races. Good wasn’t good enough.

The so called “Herbie” avionics Oracle used to enable them to foil quicker and automatically seemed to make the big difference. Apparently ETNZ knew about and had access to the same tools as Oracle. Their major sponsor being of course one of the biggest airlines in the world! Why didn’t they use it? Because they got it late in the day when they were already doing well. Why change a good thing?

Being 8:1 in front ETNZ hoped that they could win “their share” of races, after all they only needed one, no point changing now. ETNZ relied on hope, the good old Kiwi “she’ll be right” approach and the belief that they’d be “good enough”.

Unfortunately they weren’t. Their hopes and that of a nation were dashed.

Oracle used the best tools available to them and they continued to learn and improve their use of the tools.

What parallels can we draw for negotiators? We’re still blown away by the number of organisations we speak to who say things like:

“We know Scotwork is the best but we’re using something cheaper that’s “good enough”.

“The budget doesn’t run to that so were using something we know isn’t as good but it’ll be ok (good enough)”

“The Pareto (80/20) principal means by using the cheaper solution, we’ll get 80% of the ROI we’d get from using the better one – that’s good enough”

Is it?

Would you tell that to your stakeholders and shareholders? What if "good enough" isn't?

Both teams invested a fortune in technology, design, practice, trial and error. They all sailed like men possessed. In this respect they can all carry their heads high, NZ can certainly be proud of the kiwi contribution to what was a great sporting event.

It’s what may appear to be the minor marginal things that can make the biggest difference in this world, as ETNZ learned to their chagrin.  Investment in the best tools combined with the best skills makes a difference, as does flexibility and a willingness to adjourn when necessary and change. These things alone can make the difference between: 

  • winning and losing
  • maintaining your margins or not
  • getting the contract or not
  • managing to maintain or compromising the relationship when things go wrong
  • and sometimes between survival or not

It’s about risk management folks. When it comes to the crunch we all have to make the call - is it “good enough”? Sometimes by the time you’ve realised it isn’t, it’s too late.

Are those that negotiate on behalf of your organisation “good enough”?

Have you given them the best tools, training and skills to get the outcomes your stakeholders and organisations want and need?

Sometimes “good enough” quite simply and in this case quite sadly - isn’t


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