Health banner

Debate on great versus good, anyone?

July 06, 2018

These are interesting times when TV anchors and authors in India and elsewhere are finding philosophical appeal and mass purchase potential in old allegorical narratives, while western management schools and communication gurus are rediscovering story-telling at the centre of communication-effectiveness measured by stickiness.

I am often reminded of a story from the Mahabharata epic and it is new age version that experience has helped me develop – the story of Guru Dronacharya asking the Kauravas and the Pandavas to take aim at the eye of a wooden bird placed on a tree branch. The moral is that if you see nothing but what you aim for, you will definitely get it. Also, one prominent implication practiced is ‘you wait until you reach 100% certainty/clarity’. Often happily forgotten is the fact that this was training context, not the real battle one.

The story of preventive health and its link to the availability of safe drinking water and broadly to WASH coverage looks like a case in point. As the story and mythological extract go, only Arjuna sees the bird’s eye and nothing else, while everyone else sees something or the other besides the eye of the bird. And hence, Drona asks only Arjuna to try and, as expected, he successfully hits the bird’s eye.

Obviously, I am nobody to question Drona and his great wisdom, but very often we have seen the greatness of large schemes and grand designs become the bane of a simple, quickly realizable, satisfactory action. Frankly, what is the point of hitting the bird in the eye? Just hit it, anywhere, that’s good enough!

Point is let’s not over-constraint the solution design. In urban plans, it is only fair to assume that every household ‘should’ be connected to piped water supply and ‘should’ get adequate quantity of good quality water for household purposes including for drinking. But knowing fully well that such a plan will take long before it reaches everyone, not keeping space for nimble community level drinking water infrastructure as an interim solution is like betting 100% on a blueprint.

Simply put things are iterative, the solution will evolve. Pursuing excellence and improvement at every step is better than waiting for the perfection of a great grand blueprint that will be implemented en masse in a homogenized manner.

Writing this I am also aware of the fact that the new age management Guru Jim Collins, who I agree with more often than not, popularized the concept of ‘Good being enemy of Great’ implying complacence of good stops further improvement.  My humble submission is that there are cases where ‘waiting for great is becoming the enemy of good’. In fact on some further digging one finds similar sentiments being expressed through the times of Confucius, Aristotle, Shakespeare and Voltaire.

In my limited understanding and experience ‘reaching everyone, soon enough, with good quality and adequate quantity’ is the noble goal for public services. The goal is not to reach everyone with the same or single blueprint.

A recurring blog by Sarvajal CEO Anuj Sharma – an educationist at heart, who began with Pratham – has been with Piramal Sarvajal since its inception in 2008. He keeps stirring the turgid pot of knowledge as far as all-around solutions for the safe and reliable drinking water problem called Beyond The Pipe go.