I came across a blog post targeted towards entrepreneurs that discussed the value of the same principles of failure and learning that I proposed in the post “Really Scott.” The post is from the blog OnStartups and is a discussion of the success of the on-line data storage company DropBox.
The insight that the author drew from the experience of DropBox is “The worst outcome for a startup is not failure — it’s mediocrity.” The election administration corollary is “The worst outcome for an election is not failure — it’s mediocrity.” I know many administrators (and candidates, parties and reporters) that are more than satisfied with an uneventful yet mediocre election. Why and how could mediocrity be worse than failure?
The answer comes from the experience of DropBox as reported in the post:
“Here’s the big lesson: Many founders think that the worst outcome you can have in a startup is failure. You try something and it fails. And yes, failing sucks. But, what’s worse than failing is going sideways for years and years. Being stuck in a quagmire of mediocrity. Things are going reasonably well, but not spectacularly well. The reason mediocrity sucks more than failure is very simple: Failure lets you move on, mediocrity stalls you and keeps you from reaching your potential.”
Previously I wrote “An election that avoids learning moments and ambiguity by sheer luck and good fortune (rather than by effective procedures and management) is not, by definition, a “good” election.” It cannot be “good” because the experience does not provide sufficient basis and motivation for improvement.
Mediocrity impairs learning by avoiding the pain that failure brings. The pain of failure is what drives people and organizations to learn, change and improve. A mediocre organization only seeks to maintain its mediocrity.
There are many management lessons to be learned and applied to election administration from the business world. Similarly theories of management, organizational development and public administration generally should be more vigorously used to explain and understand election administration behavior.