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Letting Form Triumph Over Substance

by David Brock on August 30th, 2008
John Gardner book, EXCELLENCE, published in 1961 is an inspirational book. One line in the book has always stuck with me:

“Do not let form triumph over substance.”

It’s a constant reminder to me, and refocuses me, particularly when I get caught into motions and activity.

I sometimes get discouraged, I see so much effort going into form: Saying the right words, writing the proper letter/email, having the right action plan/project plan, doing the right meetings, having the right appearance. On the surface, everything is polished, professional, things look fantastic.

Dig a little bit, and you find nothing behind it. People move from meeting to meeting, forgetting the action plans and commitments they have made. They move from conversation to conversation, crisis to crisis. They have meetings and conversations about things that haven’t been done, agree to do those things, then have more meetings and conversations about why those things weren’t done.

In the end, it’s all been done in the right form, there’s been a lot of activity that we can point to proudly, but nothing is accomplished.

We all get caught up in this behavior, it is seductive, easy to succumb to. I look at myself and see all the things where I have done and said the right, astute, insightful things, but not stepped up to the follow through and creating real meaning and substance behind this. In the end, it’s just lip service.

I need to constantly remind myself to do a little less, talk a little less, meet a little less, but execute and create real substance and meaning in those things that I do

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