Perfection vs Good enough

Monday, August 14, 2017

Perfection vs Good enough


“Good is the enemy of great.” vs “Good enough is good enough.” Two schools of thought about perfection, good enough and quality when making things. In today’s episode of Maker Musings at the House of Hacks, Harley is joined by his wife Diane as they talk about these two competing schools of thought. One school takes the perspective that we settle for good enough and fail to strive for perfect. The other takes the perspective that perfection is unattainable and so we should accept good enough. Both have their pros and cons and today’s discussion involves the dynamic tension between the two.

Roberto Blake talking about defining quality: What is QUALITY Content?!

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Intro/Exit: "Hot Swing" by Kevin MacLeod at


Today at the House of Hacks, we're going to talk about "perfection" vs "good enough."


Hi Makers, Builders and Do-it-yourselfers.

I'm Harley, your host, and this is my lovely wife, Diane, she's joining me today for this episode of Makers Musings.

In the past several episodes I've been talking about the reasons for House of Hacks. I've talked about the name, why I chose "House of Hacks." I talked about some of the different reasons I'm doing House of Hacks: to inspire, to educate and to encourage makers. And I've talked about some of the other philosophies with House of Hacks.

Today I want to talk about the last closing statement where I say "Perfection's not required. Fun is!" And so I just want to talk about "perfection" vs "good enough" today.

So, basically there's two schools of thought. Either someone approaches the issue with the idea that "good is the enemy of perfection" or the flip side is "done is better than perfect."

Yeah, I think these have been popularized by two people. I think Jim Collins in his book "Good to Great" is the one that kind of has reinvigorated the idea of "good is the enemy of great." It has a long history but I think he's kind of the one of the ones who's brought it to the fore in recent years.

And the other school of thought again has been around for quite a while but it's been recently re-popularized by Mark Zuckerberg with Facebook fame, where Facebook is constantly iterating on getting things done rather than focusing on being perfect.

I think there's these two things both have their pros and their cons.

The first school of thought is really trying to get away from the problem that comes up with complacency. Where you're stuck in a rut and you just aren't focusing on improving or getting better. The emphasis there is on perfection because being "good enough" isn't good enough in the long term. You can get stuck and not continue to grow and be overcome by your competitors in the business world, for example, where Jim Collins is applying the principles.

On the other hand, the problem with focusing on perfection is there's... you can never get finished. Right. Nothing is ever perfect and so if you strive for perfection you never finish anything because you can always see a way to improve.

And so that's where the second school of thought tries to kind of counter balance that and say "You know, you don't need to be perfect. You just need to get it done." And so they're trying to counter balance going too far the other direction with perfectionism.

I know a lot of people have struggled with being perfect and not wanting to release things if they're not perfect or not letting someone see something if they don't feel like it's done. So these two things are kind of in dynamic tension, I think. If you focus on one to the exclusion of the other you can really run into problems.

I can really see how having to be perfect is a massive detrimental wall, brick wall, to actually accomplishing things because there have been times in my life when I've been learning how to paint or learning how to play a musical instrument and I just couldn't get it right and have given up. One instance, I was painting a flower and I looked at the flower and even though the flower on the piece of paper was pretty, it was colorful, it had a lots of contrast in it, it wasn't even close to the real thing. I told myself I am never going to be able to paint anything that is that beautiful and I haven't painted anything since. The idea of having to be "perfect" can really, really cause people to never accomplish anything.

But on the flip side of that I've also experienced the idea that having to get something done just so that it is completely finished has been frustrating to me because, from my perspective, if I'm doing something, if I'm being creative for somebody else's benefit, I want my creativity to bless them. I want it to be good enough to bless them. That tension that I have between having to be perfect and having to be good enough to bless somebody, I find balance when I let go of having to be perfect and having to be done and just say "have I done my best?"

Yeah, I think it's important to realize that we're on a journey. And because we're on a journey, we're never going to be perfect because there's always something new to learn, to improve and to get better at. I think remembering things are always in process, both us and our abilities, is a way to realize that we never really can be perfect.

One thing that I heard somebody mention, I don't remember where it was, they mentioned to release something as an "alpha" product. So we kind of set an expectation that "hey, this isn't really finished yet, it's a work in progress." It was somebody talking about some music and music they were in the process of developing and they wanted their listeners to be able to hear it but they knew they weren't finished with it and it wasn't in it's final release. I really like that where you can let people see it, let people experience it, and yet set the expectation with them that "hey, it's not done yet."

I'm also reminded of Google. They're famous for releasing software in "beta" status. GMail was beta status for years before they did their first release. It's really kind of setting an expectation, both with yourself and with your users or your viewers, to realize that you know that it's not done and yet it's usable. It's something that can be appreciated and so forth.

Another issue that can kind of come up with thinking about perfection that I just ran into a video from Roberto Blake, and I'll leave a link down in the description, where he talks about in your strive for perfection you may miss the fact that there's different ways to measure perfection. You may be striving for perfection from one perspective and you may be putting off releasing something because it's not perfect and yet you're completely oblivious to the fact that there's other ways of measuring perfection and if you're looking at it from that perspective, either you're way beyond "perfect" or you're so far to go that you're never going to reach it, that the whole idea of perfection is kind of a nebulous concept that can really cause problems. And so I really like the idea of releasing something when it's done and defining done in a way that you can accomplish it and then realize that that's just a step in the process. You learn from that project so next time you do a similar project you can improve and get better at it.

Ryan Connelley has a... from Film Riot... ends his videos with something, a phrase "Write. Shoot. Edit. Repeat." And that's really emphasizing that you really do need to practice. Right. And we get better with practice. And so if we're looking to try to be perfect right now, that's minimizing the fact that we still have more practice to do.

So that's why I end with "Perfection's not required. Fun is!" Because we need to have fun in the learning, fun in the growing, fun in the developing and we don't need to necessarily be perfect.

I would like to say that the issue of something being done is done is better than it actually it being perfect, that's kind of like... that presents a problem with attitude because, yes, it's good to get something done because if something is done, you can move on to the next and keep developing. But there's the idea at the same time that, if done is done prematurely, then have we provided our best effort? And have we done our actual best if we're just trying to get something done and off our plate?

Within software, we have a concept of the definition of done. And so we set parameters as to what it means to be done. We know going in that this is what we need to accomplish for a particular project. And anything beyond that is beyond the scope of that particular project and so we don't necessarily need to do it. So we have a good way of measuring when we're done. So we're not releasing something that's unusable but at the same time we're not going overboard in terms of gold plating things.

So until next time, go make something.

Perfection's not required. Fun is!