“Perfect is the enemy of good.” When I looked up this quote, I was mildly surprised to discover that Voltaire said it in 1770. Apparently the problem has been around for a long time.
It’s still important today when we talk about managing tight resources and increasing demands. For many leaders, there is a temptation to take everything to that last final level of excellence rather than stopping when something is good enough. According to sources ranging from Psychology Today to the Workplace Insanity blog, this causes several problems:
- We can end up with a solution that is less effective. Often it’s better to get something out there in a timely manner than to delay by seeking that last 20% of excellence. General George Patton is quoted as saying that “a good plan implemented today is better than a perfect plan implemented tomorrow.”
- We can end up dithering. Excessive reworking can spiral into time wasting activity with little return. In extreme cases, we can even set something that’s “almost ready” aside for another look and never get back to it.
- We can lose perspective. Nothing is ever perfect, and the more we seek it the more we can lose track of what the goal was in the first place.
As the Psychology Today post points out, recognizing when rework leads to diminishing returns is challenging. It’s also an important leadership skill for ourselves and the teams we lead. Here’s a lighthearted reminder: the most outside-of-the-box rendition of the song Let it Go that I could find. You might want to save the link and play it back when you start getting stuck in rework.
What other strategies have helped keep you from getting caught up in the search for perfection?
–Dee Anne Bonebright