On Rigor

People who work with me may have heard me mention from time to time my obsession with rigor. For me, rigor is what it means to not take the easy route out of tough conversations. Rigor is about asking the hard questions even when you know that the ensuing conversation may unearth challenges you’re not prepared to meet. Rigor is about approaching every encounter with integrity and honesty–an honesty with yourself about what’s really happening and what your role is in making sure the outcome to a problem is successful.

What’s hard for me sometimes is discerning between rigor and perfectionism. Rigor is not about getting everything right, all the time. Rigor is not about beating yourself up because the choice you made didn’t lead to the the total sucess you hoped for. Rigor is about committing yourself to asking the hard questions, whether you always have the right answers or not.

We’ve all probably been in meetings where the people around the table are discussing a topic, and we know we’re not getting at it rigourously. Rather than pinning down meanings to words, we allow ourselves to assume that we’re all saying the same things. Days or weeks later, when we don’t see the outcomes we expected, we can trace the failure back to that meeting, when no one was willing to be rigorous enough to make sure everyone was on the same page.

I haven’t mastered rigor. I’m a lot better at identifying the moments in my life where I’ve failed to be rigorous than I am at identifying ways to make myself more rigorous. But I’m going to hold rigor out there in front of me, and I’m going to keep forcing myself to look it in the eye.