Good, Great & Perfect Sep15


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Good, Great & Perfect

You’ve probably heard the phrase, “Good is the enemy of great.” I don’t know where it originated, but I know I first came across it in the book that made it famous: Jim Collin’s Good to Great, a fascinating study of how some companies came to dominate their fields.

The basic logic is simple: if you’re satisfied with being pretty good, there’s no reason to work harder to become great. True enough, and important to remember. I’ve seen the “good is the enemy of great” phenomenon almost everywhere. In students who decide a B- isn’t that bad. In teachers content with their familiar lecture or syllabus, changed very little from when they first constructed it 20 years ago. In pastors who haven’t read a new book in their field since seminary. In friends who inexplicably stay in relationships that are, at best, okay, figuring it’s better than being alone. In politicians who aren’t sure pushing a better policy is worth all the effort when the current laws are, if not great, at least, well, better than nothing.

None of us are exempt. We can settle for what we know, or have come to accept, or is familiar, or doesn’t require much more effort. And that kind of acceptance of the status quo is, indeed, the enemy of great.

But lately I’ve also realized another peril, whether in leading our personal lives or leading a family, business, school, or organization. If good is the enemy of great, perfect is the enemy of good.

Yes, we can set our sights too low. But we can also set them too high, insisting that if the end results of our efforts are not going to be perfect, it’s not worth doing. Which can be daunting and, more often, paralyzing. Because perfection is, quietly simply, impossible to achieve. Yet if that’s our goal we will dread falling short, put off getting started, or perhaps not even see the point in trying to get better. Or perhaps in the pursuit of perfection we relentlessly criticize ourselves internally for not having it all together. Or we create an environment for our kids or friends where we tend to notice only the flaws and imperfections instead of all that is going great in their lives. Perfect, in this sense, is not the next step after great, it’s the death sentence to noticing the good that is all around or improving at all.

Sometimes it’s not that we insist on being perfect, but simply that we fear making mistakes. And so we collect more information, or commission another study, or ask for more time to discuss the topic at hand rather than change, take some risks, and possibly screw up. Look, I’m all for being prepared, but when you realize that there is no perfect, only lots of mistakes on a challenging road, you’re way more likely to get going, to try, to do something rather than sit around an talk about the perfect plan.

So do it. Pick up something new this day or week and try it out. Just try. Trust me, you won’t be perfect. Maybe not even pretty good. But if you can get over the discomfort of making mistakes and not being perfectly accomplished, you’ll actually be pulled into something new and exciting and, potentially, life-giving.