Food, Unavoidable Defects, and Getting Things Done

So, the Food and Drug Administration published their Defect Levels Handbook some time back.  The purpose of the handbook is to identify levels of natural or unavoidable defects in foods that present no health hazards for humans.   In other words, if food manufacturers stay below these levels of  “unavoidable defects” in the products you buy at the supermarket, they are well within what is considered safe for us to eat.

Below I present you with some of the more interesting defect levels.  I hope you have already enjoyed a good breakfast.

  • Apple Butter – can not have more than 4 rodent hairs or 5 or more whole or equivalent insect parts per 100 grams.
  • Frozen Broccoli – can not have more than an average of 60 aphids, mites, and/or thrips per 100 grams.
  • Ground Cinnamon – can not have more than 400 insect fragments per 50 grams.
  • Chocolate – can not have 60 insect fragments per 100 grams.
  • Fig Paste – can not have 13 insect heads per 100 grams.

So, now that you are thinking anew about what you eat. . .

Here’s the point.  We’ve all been eating these things (well, I don’t know that I’ve ever had fig paste) and we’ve not suffered harm.  We’ve been just fine.  And, even with this knowledge, most of us will continue to eat these items and we’ll be just fine.  That is because these defects are inconsequential.  While 13 insect heads sounds horrible, they don’t make a substantive difference to our enjoyment of the food nor to our health.

However, in many cases with our work, we expect perfection.  We stall projects, initiatives, direct mail letters, phonathons, major gift asks all because something is “not quite perfect.”

Over the longer term, demanding perfection will harm progress.  Because the stars are never fully and completely aligned.  Perfection will never be reached.  And when we demand it from ourselves and, especially from others, we squelch creativity and initiative.  Who wants to start a task when it is understood that perfection is required but will never be achieved?

We will have “unavoidable defects” in all we plan and implement.  Our role as development leaders is to have a strong understanding of when an “unavoidable defect” will and will not compromise the substantive effectiveness of our plans.

In other words, we must know that 13 insect heads in 100 grams of fig paste gets a green light, but that 14th head. . . now that is trouble!

1 Comment

One Comment

  1. Great thoughts, Jason! Yes, we/I often expect perfection from our staff and ourselves. While we may never have a list like the FDA we should have conversations about consequential and inconsequential errors. I think we need to expect perfection in some areas (names, addresses, etc.) but should not stop a project because we don’t have another month to plan it to perfection. Thanks for sharing a very good insight.

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