Your Secret Mental Weapon: 'Don't Let the Perfect Be the Enemy of the Good'
Tactics are sexy. It’s inspiring and fun to whip out some sweet new technique that will rock your marketing, shake up the industry and blow away the competition. But for most entrepreneurs, business success is not born from tactics. It’s born from those subtle, below-the-surface mental shifts. And shifts take time.
Yet, like massive glaciers inching down mountainsides, those business shifts are unstoppable.
The way that you as an entrepreneur or business leader train your mind will make all the difference in your future. You will succeed or fail based on the critical mental shifts that you make. So, take note of one mental shift that's particularly important for producing success: “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”
Let me show you how this single idea can become the mental shift that will stop you from floundering and turn you into a successful entrepreneur.
Who first said it?
Where did this idea come from: that "the perfect is the enemy of the good"? We don't know, but similar phrases have been attributed to several philosophers and sages throughout the ages:
- Voltaire: “The best is the enemy of the good.”
- Confucius: "Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without."
- Shakespeare: “Striving to better, oft we mar what's well.”
Recently, contemporary positive psychology author Gretchen Rubin again popularized the aphorism in her book, The Happiness Project. And through the years, various business people and thinkers have expressed the idea without the pithy pointedness of Voltaire or Confucius.
What does it mean?
What does the idea mean? It takes a second glance to let its meaning sink in: The perfect is the enemy of the good.
Trying to make something perfect can actually prevent us from making it just good. Perfection in its elusive glory is like a unicorn. Sure, it sounds great, but who’s actually seen one? I’d rather ride a real horse than wait for an imagined unicorn.
So, if you can’t achieve perfection, don’t sweat it. Go for good instead. Gretchen Rubin described it this way:
Instead of pushing yourself to an impossible ‘perfect,’ and therefore getting nowhere, accept ‘good.’ Many things worth doing are worth doing badly.”
Many high-achieving people are perfectionists. This trait characterizes the world’s prototypical Type As, whose ranks of movers and shakers include many business leaders, entrepreneurs, thought leaders, writers and business owners.
And perfection can be a good thing: After all, that drive can push people to do great things. But it has a dark side, too. The challenge of "perfection" can intimidate people so they don't even try. If perfection is the goal, yet unattainable, what's the point?
In fact, this is the exact point at which we need to remind ourselves that the perfect is the enemy of the good. Instead of idolizing the pinnacle of perfection, be content with something good.
How do you apply it?
Rubin, the Happiness Project author, expressed her quote in the imperative: Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Hers was a direct way of putting it, forcing us to stop and think about our actions. But, what about you? How can you put the principle into practice in your daily experience? Here are some options:
- Business Idea: Instead of waiting until you have a complete airtight business plan, simply start your business.
- Software: Instead of ironing out every last bug, release your beta.
- Products: Instead of adding every conceivable improvement and feature, ship your product. Release improvements later.
- Health: Instead of finding the right gym, selecting the right outfit and picking the right workout, just go for a walk.
- Website: Instead of finding the best server, CMS, theme, appearance and font, just get a landing page up and start selling.
- Email: Instead of trying to create a well-written and grammatically impeccable email, just get the message out and click “send.”
Perfection is a pipe dream. As Psychology Today explained, “‘perfect’ may exist as a concept,” but it’s not a reality. After all, its definition is entirely subjective. “Achieving perfection” is entirely a judgment call, depending on who’s trying to achieve it and who’s watching.
Satisfaction is better than exhilaration.
We’ve been conditioned to think that the right combination of actions will achieve a flash of exhilaration. When we happen upon the perfect marketing strategy, we expect a rush of joy. When we discover the best business for us to start, we're flooded with an electric sensation of excitement.
This thrill-seeking mentality is yet another symptom of the good killing the perfect. It’s important to understand that the perfect-being-the-enemy-of-the-good can skew aspects of our daily lives, like those listed above. But the concept can impose even more damage, skewing our expectations even as it cripples our actions. So, try the following moves:
- Rather than expecting aha moments, prepare yourself for gradual improvement.
- Rather than risking sudden leaps in ability, skill, or progress, expect marginal improvement over periods of time.
- Rather than waiting for a rush of exhilaration, expect modest satisfaction over time.
It’s good to condition ourselves for success. We can do this by preparing for it, visioning it, pursuing it, seeking it and wanting it. But we can’t expect our success to explode like the finale in a Fourth of July fireworks display.
Instead, success is more likely to be gradual. It may feel good, but it won't necessarily feel perfect. Success arrives as a sense of satisfaction, not a sudden thrill.
You’re capable of amazing things. But unless you let go of the idea of perfection, you’ll have a hard time achieving those amazing things.
The pursuit of perfection is noble, but unless we’re willing to settle for "good," we may have to settle for nothing at all.
How can you apply this principle to your daily practice as an entrepreneur?
Related: How to Be the Change