Perfect is the enemy of “Good Enough”

Sun, January 13, 2013, 08:55 PM under Career

This is one of the quotes that I was against, but now it is totally part of my core beliefs:

"Perfect is the enemy of Good Enough"

Folks used to share this quote a lot with me in my early career and my frequent interpretation was that they were incompetent people that were satisfied with mediocrity, i.e. I ignored them and their advice. (Yes, I went through an arrogance phase).

I later "grew up" and "realized" that they were missing the point, so instead of ignoring them I would retort: "Of course we have to aim for perfection, because as human beings we'll never achieve perfection, so by aiming for perfection we will indeed achieve good enough results". (Yes, I went through a smart ass phase).

Later I grew up a bit more and "understood" that what I was really being told is to finish my work earlier and move on to other things because by trying to perfect that one thing, another N things that I was responsible for were suffering by not getting my attention - all things on my plate need to move beyond the line, not just one of them to go way over the line. It is really a statement of increasing scale and scope.

To put it in other words, getting PASS grades on 10 things is better than getting an A+ with distinction on 1-2 and a FAIL on the rest. Instead of saying “I am able to do very well these X items” it is best if you can say I can do well enough on these X * Y items”, where Y > 1. That is how breadth impact is achieved.

In the future, I may grow up again and have a different interpretation, but for now - even though I secretly try to "perfect" things, I try not to do that at the expense of other responsibilities. This means that I haven't had anybody quote that saying to me in a while (or perhaps my quality of work has dropped so much that it doesn't apply to me any more - who knows :-)).

Wikipedia attributes the quote to Voltaire and it also makes connections to the “Law of diminishing returns”, and to the “80-20 rule” or “Pareto principle”…

it commonly takes 20% of the full time to complete 80% of a task while to complete the last 20% of a task takes 80% of the effort

…check out the Wikipedia entry on “Perfect is the enemy of Good” and its links. Also use your favorite search engine to search and see what others are saying (Bing, Google) – it is worth internalizing this in a way that makes sense to you…