I think Jim Collins was right when he said “good is the enemy of great.” As he says in Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t:
We don’t have great schools, principally because we have good schools. We don’t have great government, principally because we have good government. Few people attain great lives, precisely because it is easy to settle for a good life. The vast majority of companies never become great precisely because they become quite good–and that is their main problem.
Good makes us settle for less than our best. Good makes us think we’re done when the work has only just begun. Good makes us exhale when we really should take a deep breath and keep pushing.
However, even though it sounds contradictory, I think Voltaire was also right when he said, “The perfect is the enemy of the good” (or the French equivalent thereof). In striving for perfect, we often overdo it. In striving for perfect, in fact, we often never finish at all.
I think there’s a parallel here to the “rock, paper, scissors” game. As you probably know, the game centers around the premise that rock beats scissors, scissors beats paper, and paper beats rock. In other words, each one has a strength and a weakness comparative to the others.
The very same thing holds true for the game we play in our professional lives: good, great, better:
- Great beats good when good can be better.
- Better beats great when good is mistaken for great.
- But good beats better when great, or even finished, is inhibited by better.
If you haven’t broken a sweat, what seems like great may just be good. But if you’ve sweat so much that your eyes burn, your vision may be off, and you may mistake “merely good” for truly “good enough.”
The key is being able to recognize the difference between good and great, and being honest with yourself about when it’s time to throw down again–and when it’s time to wrap it up. Don’t settle for good when great deserves a chance. But don’t search for better when great is right there in front of you.