29
Aug
07

The Trap of “Good Enough”

What do you think when someone says to you, “That’s good enough.” Do you feel a sense of relief? Do you feel like you can move on to something new and exciting? Matt Asay over at CNET explores how this concept has taken hold in the tech world:

“Good enough” frees up time and resources to experiment with new approaches to technology, rather than fixating on perfecting old approaches. For example, I’ve long criticized Google for spitting out so many half-baked projects that never approach relevance.

But perhaps that’s the point. “Good enough” is just that: good enough for some people for some things and likely not good enough for others. The things that work, work. The things that don’t…reside in eternal beta.

I applaud the original intent of “good enough,” but I question the individuals and entities that make it part of a daily routine. We’ve gotten lazy (again) with how we use “good enough.” While I may use “good enough” to describe my approach to bed making, I’d be embarrassed to use it to describe the quality of work for my clients. I wonder, if in our push towards the latest shiny thing, we’re sacrificing too much in the name of “good enough.”

I’m not a perfectionist, at least not in every area of my life. I’m guilty of subscribing to “good enough” in several areas: mowing the lawn in semi-straight lines, getting most of the bugs of while washing a car, and ignoring the stacked clothes on the floor of my closet. As Matt says, “the things that work, work.” The lawn is still mowed, the car is still cleaner than it was before, and I can still open and close my closet doors. These areas of my life are not negatively affected by the “good enough” philosophy. It’s where many people draw the line, however, that concerns me.

One of the reasons I finally decided to start my own business was frustration with work quality. When you aren’t the boss, someone else is in charge of determining “good enough.” Based on my experience, this practice happened way too often, and we paid the price for not meeting expectations, but it never seemed to affect the application of “good enough.” The biggest problem with “good enough” is that very few people are skilled at consistently and realistically making that call. Too often, we deviate on the side of “not good enough,” but don’t recognize it until it’s too late.

Perhaps my musings feel like they’re going in circles. Or perhaps that’s the real point—what’s to stop you from invoking “good enough” every time you make the circuit on a project or in a relationship? At the end of his post, Asay points out that:

On the IT side, Baker poses a hugely important question: is good enough good enough? If so (and, frankly, it should be for most every application), then our options expand dramatically as to how we resolve our needs. If not, we’re likely going to be forced into a system that requires that we live by its rules, rather than having innovative software that adapts to ours.

That’s the trade-off. Innovation and cost for “perfection.” Suddenly, “good enough” never sounded so good.

Why don’t we say, instead of “good enough,” that something is our “best effort?” Isn’t that a more accurate definition of what we’re trying to accomplish? Asay highlights the sacrifice of “perfection” for innovation and cost. More than money, I suspect “good enough” can eventually cost us part of our selves, the part that seeks after doing better and pushing the limit on our abilities. “Good enough” should never become our excuse for mediocrity.

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