Voltaire & Information Services: “Good Enough” – “Excellence” – “Perfection”

I once worked with a CIO who, on my first day, told me that his philosophy was: “never let ‘perfect’ get in the way of ‘good enough'”

I thought this was a curious philosophy and something about it seemed familiar, so I dug around a bit and found many versions of this line.

  • “Perfect is the worst enemy of Good Enough”
  • “Perfection is the enemy of Good Enough”
  • “Better Than Is the Enemy of Good Enough”
  • “Better Is the Enemy of Good Enough”

It didn’t take long to figure out that these were all misquotations of Voltaire:

“The Perfect is the Enemy of the Good.”

I guess I took that point reasonably well (as I understood it). In the context of this talk with the CIO, it meant that it was often not a wise use of resources to pursue perfection when we already had (or could easily achieve “serviceable.”

But whenever I thought of this talk with the CIO, the phrase “good enough” kept rubbing me the wrong way.

I’m not a perfectionist. Perfection is an ideal, not an acheivable goal. Striving for perfection, in my opinion, leads to unsociable behaviors, stress-induced health conditions, and really, really annoying people.like Phil Hartman’s The Anal-Retentive Chef I miss Phil Hartman.

On the other hand, I don’t think “good enough” is an acceptably high bar. When we deliver services to our customers/patrons/clients, should’t we be shooting for “excellence”? Excellence is do-able.

It seems to me that, most of the time, the amount of effort that would bridge the difference between “good enough” and “excellent” is small and that “excellence” pays dividends in extra-satisfied customers/patrons/clients that it is absolutely worth investing.

On the other side of that is that users/clients/customers/patrons are usually savvy enought to know “good enough” when they see it. It tells that that ther needs really aren’t the priority. Rather than paying dividends, it costs.

So. My new motto is this:

“Good enough” is the enemy of excellence. Strive for excellence and know when to stop reaching for the impossible goal of perfection.

How do you know when you’ve achieved excellence? Ask your users/clients/customers/patrons.

4 thoughts on “Voltaire & Information Services: “Good Enough” – “Excellence” – “Perfection”

  1. I see your point, but I also work with some folks who can’t distinguish between perfect and excellence, which can be frustrating.

    I think that “good enough” meets the needs of the user in many cases, and like “excellence,” it’s in the eye of the beholder. Do your users leave satisfied? Then you did well, whether it was good enough or excellent.

  2. That’s an excellent motto!

    I’d contend, though, that the [small] gap between good enough and excellence is one of those 80/20 pareto effort drains. To sort of tack on to Mark’s link, it’s often a decision of quantity versus quality; of releasing early and often or releasing highly-polished products.

  3. Pingback: When Good Enough Just Isn’t Good Enough - Things of interest to a medical librarian. - Krafty Librarian