Perfect is the Enemy of “Good Enough”

For those of you who have read my posts over the past month or so, you may have noticed that I’ve been exploring a couple of themes. Those have been Geoffrey Moore’s work on core vs. context and the concept of managing our inner board of directors (adapted from Kerry Parson’s work on The Essential Journey).

Sometimes only perfect will do!
Sometimes only perfect will do!

In my work life, I’m quite focused on core vs. context right now, particularly what it takes to bring meaningful innovation to market. The mantra we are using to establish our approach to innovation is that perfect is the enemy of “good enough”. Innovating is an uncertain thing – more of an art than a science. In addition, it can be time sensitive. Some innovations have a limited shelf life, while in other cases competition is also at play so we want to be first to market.

To summarize this, failure is an option in the world of innovation and time is of the essence. So if you are going to fail, try to fail fast! Hence our mantra – perfect is the enemy of good enough.

Ryan Babineaux’s book “Fail Fast, Fail Often” is about this topic. In the book Babineaux states:

Successful people take action as quickly as possible, even though they may perform badly.

Instead of trying to avoid making mistakes and failing, they actively seek opportunities where they can face the limits of their skills and knowledge so that they can learn quickly. They understand that feeling afraid or under-prepared is a sign of being in the space for optimal growth and is all the more reason to press ahead. In contrast, when unsuccessful people feel unprepared or afraid, they interpret it as a sign that it is time to stop, readdress their plans, question their motives, or spend more time preparing and planning.

What a powerful way to look at things!  I love this concept the most: “successful people” understand that feeling afraid or under-prepared is a sign of being in the space for optimal growth and is all the more reason to press ahead.

So how does this apply to our individual lives?  I feel that the urge to grow is within us, and in order to grow we have to step into a similar space characterized by feeling afraid, not knowing and feeling under-prepared.  We have to step out of our comfort zone and into the learning zone.

What stops us?

Might it be our internal board of directors again?  Might there be an internal voice within us whispering (or maybe shouting) that we’re not good enough?  Might we try to quiet this voice by demonstrating our competence … by doing things perfectly?  To go a step further, wouldn’t it be easier to do familiar things perfectly than things we’ve never tried before?

What do “successful people” do differently?

For sure some people are blessed by having a reasonably silent board of directors whereby they face fewer inner hurdles to experimentation and possible failure.

My personal opinion is that “successful people” have learned to manage their internal

Good enough!
Good enough!

board.  Despite what the board says, they always know that they are good enough. Further, they know that their greatest pleasure is in growing as an individual and using that growth to contribute to their community, however they define it.

In essence, being good enough is the enemy of perfectionism!  How’s that for turning the tables on the process!

Once we know we are good enough, we feel much safer venturing outside our comfort zone and making ourselves vulnerable. I’ve written of Brené Brown in the past but I believe her work on vulnerability is worth mentioning here again.  In her words, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.”  Brené also asserts that “understanding the difference between healthy striving and perfectionism is critical to laying down the shield and picking up your life. Research shows that perfectionism hampers success”.

Paraphrasing Brené this time, she believes that “successful people” fully embrace vulnerability. They believe that what makes them vulnerable makes them beautiful. They don’t talk about vulnerability being comfortable,nor do they really talk about it being excruciating.They just talk about it being necessary to have the willingness to do something where there are no guarantees.  

If you haven’t seen Brené’s TED Talk on this subject I highly recommend it.

How about you?  How willing are you to step outside your comfort zone into the learning zone? What makes it easier?  What stops you from doing so?

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Ian Munro @

Ian Munro is a leadership and vitality coach with a primary passion for working with senior professionals who wish to improve their connection to and vitality in their career, or who wish to make a transition to a meaningful and rewarding retirement. His methods are focused on helping clients understand why they present as they do in day-to-day life, discover their authentic self and give themselves permission to build a meaningful and rewarding future, both professional and personal. Ian’s love for this work has developed naturally as he built his career as an executive and leader in the IT services industry, serving in many roles and facets of this industry over 25 years. As he reached the pinnacle of his career he began to search more deeply for meaning and alternate rewards from his own career and to begin to plan for his own “first retirement”.

5 thoughts on “Perfect is the Enemy of “Good Enough”

  1. Really love this line Ian: “successful people” understand that feeling afraid or under-prepared is a sign of being in the space for optimal growth and is all the more reason to press ahead.

    We are actually taught not to do this! Also, I watched the TED talk, it’s amazing!

    Diana xo

  2. When I was twelve I basically got a perfect score in my arithmetic end-of-year test, 300 marks. However, the teacher felt she could not give me a perfect score and searched until she finally found I had left out a decimal point in one question, giving me a score of 299. She made a big fuss in front of the class and made a joke about the missing decimal point. I have been looking for those missing decimal points ever since, those little flaws that means whatever I do is not quite perfect, not quite good enough. It is quite exhausting. I can see the advantages of what you describe as ‘good enough’ is just as you say – good enough.

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