Jan 142012
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“The perfect is the enemy of the good.”

This wonderfully compact nugget of wisdom – commonly attributed to Voltaire, the French Enlightenment figure – is a fixture in the vernacular of modern business.

My undergraduate French degree doesn’t qualify me to challenge Voltaire’s intellect. But hey, Voltaire hasn’t done a lick of work in over 330 years. So I’m going to weigh in on his War of Good and Perfect, to see if I can pick a winner.

Here are 5 ways Good beats the crap out of Perfect:

1. Good is quick out of the gate. Perfect debates whether this gate, or that one over there, is the best gate from which to proceed.

2. You probably can’t afford Perfect. But with a savvy mixture of your cash on hand, some pocket lint, and your own creativity (or your talent for inspiring it in others), Good is within reach.

3. Perfect is an egotist. Good is a collaborator. Perfect is an old school, round-world, command-and-controller. Good is a progressive, flat-world, plays-well-with-others hipster. [thank you Thomas Friedman]

4. Good is motion. Perfect is an obsession. Good feels like a hike or a trip to the gym. It’s got a beginning and an end. It makes you sweat. And when you’re done with Good, you feel it (Good). Perfect is like a Scottish poet, locked in a seaside cabin, curtains drawn, brooding for weeks over the next couplet.

5. Good finishes on schedule, or early, and doesn’t expect kudos. Perfect always takes extra time, without asking for it. And if you object, Perfect will lecture you, gazing into the distance, with trite zingers like “time takes time,” or “you can’t rush (me),” or this little gem, “Rome wasn’t built in a day!”

[No, it wasn’t built in a day. It took 1200 years of militaristic expansion, artistic and cultural thievery, slavery, torture, taxation without representation, corruption, massive debt, and general debauchery, until it collapsed, ushering in the Dark Ages. Thanks a lot, Rome!]

Ok, ok. The Rome comparison is probably the right place to throw down a big fat caveat. Because the Romans clearly did some great work. And caveat is a Latin word.

If you consistently reject even the pursuit of Perfect, Good will eventually let you down. Maybe in a big way.

Perfect, for all its faults, wants to get it right. Perfect has been there and done that, and will also listen to others – like Been There and Done That – who have relevant experience. Perfect is willing to consider all the angles. Perfect doesn’t trust quick fixes. Perfect is all about adding value over the long-term. Perfect has calculated the cost (to the penny!) of what happens when Good ends up being Not Good, because Good phoned it in, half-assed it, or took a short-cut. “The Donner Party tried to take a short cut,” Perfect says, annoyingly but with conviction. “And THAT didn’t work out so well, DID IT?!”

[Perfect tends to overindulge in hyperbole.]

So what’s our endgame in the war between Perfect and Good?

Maybe it’s this: Perfect and Good may be enemies. But Too Expensive, Too Late, Half-Assed, and Eaten-For-Breakfast-By-Your-Friends are our enemies.

So let Good and Perfect battle it out a bit. Just be sure to impose a cease-fire before Good Enough and Nearly Perfect end up K.I.A..

Your turn now.  Do you have any more fun personifications to compare — or comparisons to personify — Good and Perfect?