Perfect is the enemy of good is an old proverb from Voltaire which asserts that a drive for perfectionism can actually prevent you from accomplishing a task at all when a good result could be achieved with significantly less effort. Perfect results are limited by the law of diminishing returns, so setting the bar at perfection will generally result in escalating costs and timelines in execution.
This reality runs contrary to the natural tendencies of many people and many organizations who constantly drive for the perfect result or absolute completion of a task. Unfortunately in a world of increasing pace, competition, and disruptive innovation a drive for perfection is more likely to result in negative returns and a toxic blaming culture than have any positive benefits.
While I am a firm believer in outrageous goals as a mechanism to drive new thought patterns, one has to be conscious that often a good result that doesn’t achieve an outrageous goal is far better than a perfect result in achieving an incremental goal.
As Voltaire suggests, good is more than sufficient in most cases.
I believe however that Voltaire hasn’t gone far enough in solving the problem given out current world of instant communication, large social networks, and agile product development. Sometimes adequate or “good enough” is all you need to deliver great results.
Google has made a practice of releasing products to the world that aren’t yet perfect. Most of their products live in Beta release for years after the public starts using them. Google has adopted a “good enough” model of Innovation and development and in so doing have been able to lead the market, adapt quickly to actual customer usage of their products, and create immense shareholder wealth.
In many of our organizations we spend so much time trying to drive to a perfect or even good solution to a problem when taking an adequate approach would not only provide a significant proportion of the business value we are seeking, but also provide us valuable insights into the problem itself at a fraction of the cost of the good or perfect solution. Leveraging design concepts like rapid prototyping can deliver phenomenal value at almost no cost.
Whether you are working on a product or service problem or innovation, rapid protoyping can provide valuable insights into both the results you can expect from a solution option as well as provide surprising clarity into the problem you’re trying to solve.
Even very basic approaches like Lego or foam construction of a physical model or role playing a service experience can deliver the knowledge you need to increase the business value you generate when you execute. Rapid prototyping and good old trial and error doesn’t have to be sophisticated (nor should it be in most cases) – it just has to he “good enough” to generate some new insights.
Let the golden rule of problem solving be:
Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.
But if you truly want to be at the front end of the curve in your industry go one step further and set your golden rule as:
Don’t let good be the enemy of “good enough”
I challenge all leaders to leverage the concept of “Good Enough to Great” with your teams and organizations. Extraordinary results await you.
Tim Empringham, MBA
Tim Empringham is a passionate advocate for Innovation in organizations of all sizes as a mechanism to drive growth, create uncontested market space, create new customer value, and drive efficiency into the internal organization. His focus is on disruption of thinking and markets through integrative thinking, structured Innovation frameworks, and leadership development of Innovation and Change leaders within the organization.