3 min read

Probably the most referenced quote from Steve Jobs, one of the most referenced individuals of our lifetime, is regarding our role and potential in life. I won’t paraphrase it, just take two minutes and listen if you aren’t familiar.

As much as I love to be contrarian, there are some references that are so good that they transcend my stubbornness. This is one of them.

Think about your job. Think about your last deadline or deliverable you had barreling towards you. Maybe you put it off for too long, or maybe you underestimated the true amount of work it would take to accomplish, or maybe both. Did your final deliverable meet even your own expectations? Could you have done better?

Now your work is in the hands of your boss who has her own deadline. More likely than not, she will use your work as a jumping off point and/or augment it with her own work. Maybe she put it off for too long, or maybe she underestimated the true amount of work it would take to accomplish, or maybe both. Did her final deliverable meet even her own expectations? Could she have done better?

At some point in the chain, this piece of work is finalized. It goes off into the world and [hopefully] serves the function that it was incepted to serve.

In my experience, with the exception of some process intricacies, the way work is incepted, delegated, created, iterated, and deployed is pretty consistent across industries and parts of life.

OK so what’s my point?

I THRIVE on deadlines. I don’t know if it was the brief time I spent learning journalism, but I absolutely pride myself on meeting deadlines. That said, I know there have been many deadlines that I was ill-prepared to meet, and the work I called “finished” was far from.

Just imagine the different areas of life where the same can be said on a daily basis, all over the world, and what the implications of that are. 

Every day, millions of people are approaching a deadline. Some of them are hungover. Some of them are heartbroken. Some of them are sick. Some of them hate their job. Some of them just really want to go home and see their kids.

Invariably, those same people are turning in work that impacts our daily lives. Engineering, design, policy, education, etc.

That’s why the world is so full of problems. Just as Steve Jobs said – everything you see was made by someone no smarter than you.

It’s not that people weren’t well-meaning; it’s that there was some level of work and due diligence that could have been done, but was not for whatever the reason. Some final wrinkle that could have been ironed out before it was deployed into the world.

In many cases, it’s a lot harder to undo something than it is to set it in motion.

I’m constantly pushing myself to think through that last wrinkle. A good friend of mine calls this “taking layers” and always encourages me to think through the 12th layer. I call it the last 10%.

It applies to just about anything you are trying to accomplish, whether you’re running, lifting, writing, analyzing, forecasting, or anything else. The last 10% effort you put in could dramatically change the quality of your work, and it’s likely what will make you grow the most.

But here’s the kicker: life doesn’t always (or even usually) allow for that last 10% at your comfortable pace or within the usual windows of time you dedicate. You have to sacrifice for it.

The choice is up to you. What is the last 10% worth to you?