While catching up on some blog reading, I came across a statement that stopped me dead in my tracks. “It’s tempting to view extremes as merely an alternative to compromise, but compromise isn’t a goal, it’s a temporary side tactic.” That little nugget came from Seth Godin’s Less vs. More, Give vs. Take.

At first reading that created a knee-jerk reaction of “well wait a minute.” It seemed like I disagreed before I even knew what my argument to the contrary would be. Then it sank in, and it struck me that appreciating the profundity of that statement required leaping the hurdles of a lot of cliches we’ve been programmed with.

We’re surrounded by advice about how it’s not a good idea to be one extreme or the other, that finding a middle ground is always ideal. Even Goldilocks and the Three Bears tries to teach us the apparent superiority of the middle choice through the allegory of soup and beds. We’re meant to accept the “just right” way of doing things, but the reality is some people like a firm mattress (or hot soup), and for those people “so-so” wouldn’t be just right at all.

In debates or arguments between people, a compromise is a way to end the discussion with both parties feeling like they at least partially got what they wanted. No one enters a debate with the intention of creating the perfect compromise; initially everyone wants to win and have it their way. One may be prepared to compromise, but that’s an anticipation of the need to do so more than a desire to do so. A compromise happens when it’s clear that acting otherwise is more trouble than it’s worth. With that in mind, creating a compromise mentality kind of teaches you not to fight for what you want, not to really take a stand on an issue. In a business setting, it may breed passive behavior that leads to stale material and lack of innovation.

Somewhere along the way we’ve gotten it into our minds that extremes are categorically bad, that they make too many waves or lead to excluding things. And after all, we wouldn’t want to miss anything.

We want to behave in a way that suits everyone, but more often than not the attempt of that goal leaves us more watered down than ever, ironically having impressed no one.