When is good, good enough?

I’m a procrastinator and a recovering perfectionist. I have more un-started and unfinished projects than I’m able to readily count. A major contributor is my desire for perfection. It’s a fight to let go and accept that good is often enough. I can declare success and move on. Or I can get started with imperfect preparation.

When is Good, Good enough?

There are places where striving for perfection is important, vital even. We strive for perfection when people’s lives are on the line, when getting it right means the difference between living or dying. In most other places in life however, good enough is just fine. Yet we still hold the ideal of perfection in what we do. The pursuit of perfection permeates our lives in academics, sports, business, the arts and in our language and marketing.

He’s perfected that move.

That was a perfect dinner.

Our company has perfected the tools you need to succeed!

The perfect way to end the day!

The perfect way to start your morning!

There is a dark side to the pursuit of perfection.

Perfectionism is a major contributor to procrastination. It fosters a fear to start because we decide up front the end won’t be perfect so why begin? Have you ever said to yourself that you won’t do something because you’re not good at it?

Perfectionism is also expensive. The Pareto Principle, also known as the 80/20 rule, tells us that 80% of the effects comes from 20% of the causes.

  • 80% of a companies profit comes from 20% of it’s customers
  • 80% of problems comes from 20% of the causes
  • 80% of a project is completed by 20% of the work and the last 20% of the project takes 80% of the effort.

Closely related is the Law of Diminishing Returns. As we get closer to perfection in something, the effort and cost to close the gap increases. For the same amount of effort input, less return will be seen.

Consider an athlete just starting out in a sport. Initially they make large improvements in their performance going from running a marathon in 5 hours to running in 4. At some point though they will struggle to improve. Every minute gained will be a bigger challenge than those before. For most of us, we don’t aspire to hold the world record marathon time and I know I would be happy to even finish! That is good enough!

Usually Good, is “Perfect”

Aristotle discussed the idea of the Golden Mean. It’s that desirable spot between two extremes, one of excess and the other deficiency. I’ll illustrate with an example.

Several months ago we repainted a large portion of the interior of our home. The perfectionist in me demands straight, unwavering lines at the baseboards and ceilings and where two colors meet in a corner. Further confounding my ability to reach perfection are the orange peel walls, that bumpy wall texture often found in homes, and rounded corners on the walls. How do you get a straight line when the wall itself is bumpy? And where does one color end and the other begin when working with one color for a hallway and another in the kitchen?

Reality is wavy lines, drips and globs of paint. Up close the errors are obvious, but from a distance those small errors are not noticed. Guests see the color on the wall, not where it wanders a little onto the ceiling or maybe doesn’t quite reach it. They don’t notice where it dripped onto the baseboard or that spot on the ceiling 20′ up where I hit the white ceiling with the brush and couldn’t quite get it all cleaned off. It’s good enough. I’d probably still be working on painting those rooms if I demanded perfection.

At the end of the day, I’m very satisfied with the painting job. It was finished in a reasonable period of time because we didn’t demand perfection, and it was done with enough care that it’s not a mess. We reached the golden mean, a perfection of it’s own.

When is Good, Good Enough?

Most of the time it is! Combat your own internal perfectionist by utilizing the Golden Mean.

Don’t let The Perfect be the enemy of The Good. Confucius said “Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.”

  • Go for a walk, don’t wait to find the perfect gym and outfit
  • Ship that product, don’t wait to add every new feature you can dream up
  • Start your business, don’t wait for a complete business plan that addresses every contingency
  • Improvise that recipe if you’re missing a few ingredients, you might even like it more!

To live a “perfect” life, stop procrastinating and find your balance in the Golden Mean. Seek to be perfect at “Good Enough”.

Posted by Ken

Toastmaster, Woodworker, Craft Beer Enthusiast and dutiful supporter of three demanding house cats. I'm also an experienced Software Engineering Manager with a demonstrated history of working in the Information Technology and Services industry. Skilled in Operating System Development, Unix, SPARC Servers, Wordpress and PHP.

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