Good enough or perfect: always a tough choice

One thing always really hard to come to a definitive conclusion on is where to stop when working on a deliverable. How to strike the right balance between “ good enough”  and “perfection”. This is a question that is true in marketing, in engineering and probably in most things in life.

Depending on our own personality, our default modus operandi may be one or the other. “Good enough” people can also be referred to as having a 80-20 or Pareto-like approaches to fixing problems. “Perfectionists” will often be labeled as detail oriented.

However, very often, people from one type won’t appreciate the other’s perspective.  A perfectionist will easily be tagged as “anal retentive”, and, conversely,  80-20 people will just as easily being judged as “doing a sloppy job”.

After having dealt with this conundrum for many years I came to a few conclusions:

  1. Don’t believe any guru, expert, business leader, etc. that tells you the secret of success is one of the other. The real good answer is: it depends. A lot.
  2. We’re all wired differently so it’s crucial that you know what your default style is (good enough vs. perfectionist) in order for you to account for this preference when having to make a decision.
  3. With every task, you should start by asking yourself: what is the minimum quality bar I need to achieve? (note: I am purposely getting out of the perfectionist/80-20 wording here, or as the authors of Crucial Conversations would say, I’m avoiding the “sucker’s choice”) This is the key question because, depending on the task, the bar can be widely different.

For instance, and this is timely as Steve jobs announced his departure as the CEO of Apple this week, in this article on J.D. Meir’s blog, Jay Elliot (a former Apple VP), explains that Jobs’ obsession with details and perfection is what made Apple successful. And I believe it’s true. Likewise, in product like planes, spaceships, Lasik… it’s obviously critical to get to 99.999% not to good enough (or to think the Pareto way: 80.20).

On the flip side, if you are trying to reach perfection while weeding your backyard, de-fatting a piece of meat for your next meal, finding the perfect font or clipart for an internal PowerPoint presentation, try to test every single possible scenario for a new software, ship a totally bug-free product, write the perfect status report email, etc. you will spend 10x (at least!) more time finishing your task than with a “good enough” approach and this will produce an improved result that virtually no one but yourself will be able to see.

So, next time you need to build this PowerPoint presentation, test this product, decide on your which hotel to stay at or simply map your next road-trip start by asking yourself 2 simple questions:

  1. What is the quality bar I really need for this task?
  2. …Then tweak it a bit depending on whether you are a perfectionist (lower the bar a tidbit), or a Pareto fan (maybe aim for a slightly higher quality outcome).

The bummer with that topic is that I now wonder whether this post is good enough. Darn! Smile

One thought on “Good enough or perfect: always a tough choice

  1. J.D. Meier

    Beautiful insights.

    I’ve found the following questions useful:
    “Who’s it for?”
    “What are you optimizing for?”
    “What problem is it solving?”

    Who’s it for is important because it’s easy to think what we value, is valued by the end user.

    Choosing what to optimize for can help make more effective trade-offs.

    Solving a problem is a great way to stay focused on “good enough.” I remind myself to “satisfice” the solution.

    I tend to find that higher quality wins in the long run, so what I do to get there is ship multiple times, and focus on improvement, versus trying to get it all right up front, based on too many false assumptions, and lack of actual feedback.

    Usage is a powerful way to make something great, if we use the feedback to improve meaningful or valuable parameters.

    Reply

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