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4 Reasons Perfection is the Enemy of Good

Improving Systems and Habits

Scott Miker is the author of several books that describe how to use systems and habits to improve.  This free blog provides articles that to help understand the principles related to building systems.  

4 Reasons Perfection is the Enemy of Good

Scott Miker

Everyone wants to be perfect.  We all want the world to fit into our idea of perfection.  This causes us to view the world in a very biased way and makes it challenging to take action when things are less than perfect.

But in the real world this idea of perfection doesn’t exist.  There will always be multiple variables and layers of complexity.  There will be connectedness to other elements and people and we have to stop trying to define perfect in the traditional way.

There is a famous quote that says, “Perfection is the enemy of good.” I have found that there are four reasons why perfection is the enemy of good.  These reasons provide a slightly different perspective and can help us break away from complacency and work towards improvement.

  1. Good and bad are not as separate as we may believe
  2. We think perfection means everything is flawless and there is no adversity
  3. Analysis paralysis causes us to freeze and avoid moving forward
  4. Progress helps you move forward and improve, not perfection

First we have to realize that there really isn’t good and bad as two separate, distinct characterizations.  Everything has both good and bad in it.  One can’t exist without the other.  While the U.S. might view WWII as our triumph over evil, the rest of the world might point out that we used weapons of mass destruction and killed many innocent people in order to end the war.  Different perspectives will label the same event differently. 

It isn’t just that different people will label the same event differently.  We often label the same event differently.  When LeBron James left the Cleveland Cavaliers to take his talent to South Beach, Clevelanders were devastated.  But because of his decision Cleveland wound up getting a few key players through the draft that they otherwise wouldn’t have gotten.  That led to a stronger team when LeBron decided to return four years later.  That same event that was bad suddenly didn’t look quite so bad for the city and fans. 

Maybe our perspective on perfection is what is wrong.  We tend to think perfection is without flaws or errors.  But what if the flaws and errors help create perfection?  Since both good and bad exist together, the bad tends to help shape us.  Struggle helps build character and adversity defines champions.  So maybe perfection isn’t the easy road and free of obstacles but rather perfection is the challenging road because it brings with it so much wisdom.

One of the biggest reasons why perfection is the enemy of good is because we tend to get caught up in planning and ignore execution.  We want perfection to exist and present a flawless option so we hesitate and don’t move forward. 

In Take Command, author Jake Wood talks about his time in the military, playing football for Wisconsin and starting a disaster relief organization.  He gives a lot of great insight into the analysis paralysis that can come when we need things to seem perfect before we start.

In a section where he described the disaster relief organization’s move to help those impacted by hurricane Sandy he says, “There was no way to predict and plan for everything that might possibly go wrong; the best we could hope to do was control what we could, and get comfortable with the fact that we might have to figure out the rest on the fly.”

It takes a certain level and trust and confidence to “figure it out on the fly” but without that internal belief we will struggle to try and label every possible situation and develop contingencies.  This doesn’t mean we don’t develop contingencies.  It means that we have to realize when the point is where we planned as much as we could and now we have to act. 

Finally the reason why perfection is the enemy of good is because it halts our progress.  We have to focus on improving and making progress.  This encompasses leadership. Self-improvement, team building, project management or just about any major undertaking.  We have to move closer and closer to the goal or end point we establish.  Waiting for perfection means that we aren’t making progress towards our goals. 

Being a perfectionist and being detail-oriented has value but it can also cripple us if we don’t understand the limitations.  We have to keep moving forward and making progress even if our image of perfect isn’t there.  We have to realize the perfection in adversity and the ability to grow from challenges.  If we do that we can continue to move forward towards our goals and our dreams, letting nothing stop us from succeeding.