Perfect is the enemy of the good

July 28, 2013

“Perfect is the enemy of the good.”

I found myself saying that in two business meetings not long ago.  I am not certain where or when I had first heard that statement, nor what exactly stimulated my saying it.

What I meant to say at the time to my colleagues at the time was that once something is good and it works, it’s time to complete it, that attempting to achieve perfection can delay a project, an activity or an event so long that you can lose its timeliness.  And that perfection is sometimes not possible, so it can be fruitless to achieve it.

But where did the statement come from?  I had no idea.

According to Wikipedia, that not-100%-reliable-source that we tell our university students that they must never, ever quote, the phrase is commonly attributed to the French writer and philosopher    Voltaire  (also known as  François-Marie Arouet, 1694-1778), whose poem  “La Bégueule” (1772) first lines read:

Dans ses écrits, un sage Italien
Dit que le mieux est l’ennemi du bien.

Which is translated as:

“In his writings, a wise Italian
says that the best is the enemy of the good.”

Related concepts are the “Pareto” principle or “80-20” rule and the “law of diminishing returns”.

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Management Secrets of the Grateful Dead

April 2, 2010

Truly one of the most surprising management articles I have read recently is “Management Secrets of the Grateful Dead”, by Joshua Green in the March 2010 issue of The Atlantic.  In the article, he describes how this iconic band has led the world not just in music but in their business management.  Here is an excerpt:

As Barnes and other scholars note, the musicians who constituted the Dead were anything but naive about their business.  They incorporated early on, and established a board of directors (with a rotating CEO position) consisting of the band, road crew, and other members of the Dead organization.  They founded a profitable merchandising division and, peace and love notwithstanding, did not hesitate to sue those who violated their copyrights. But they weren’t greedy, and they adapted well.  They famously permitted fans to tape their shows, ceding a major revenue source in potential record sales. According to Barnes, the decision was not entirely selfless: it reflected a shrewd assessment that tape sharing would widen their audience, a ban would be unenforceable, and anyone inclined to tape a show would probably spend money elsewhere, such as on merchandise or tickets.  The Dead became one of the most profitable bands of all time.