Tuesday, June 05, 2007

“Good is the enemy of great.” I heard this phrase during one of the meeting we had at our office. As I was listening, I seem to get the idea being implied that “good isn’t good enough.” Did it say to mean that we don’t have to be content with being good alone? That instead of being good, we have to aim to be great? So I ask myself, “When does it stop?”

The phrase is popularized by Good to Great author Jim Collins. This is probably borrowed from a quote from Dictionnaire Philosophique by the French Philosopher Voltaire literally translated as "The best is the enemy of good.", but is more commonly cited as "The perfect is the enemy of the good." There is much debate over what Voltaire originally meant when he said “the best is the enemy of good.” But it seems that most interpretation have the idea that sometimes aiming the best is not necessarily good, or might not necessarily turn out good.

Just recently, I received an email with the subject “Staff died due to over work.” The girl, just at the age of 28 was suspected to have died of deep vein thrombosis, a result of inactivity spending too much time with her laptop. She wanted to achieve her dream of “flying high” at the expense of her health. We might find it amusing and say it might not happen to us. But how sure are we that we are not heading in that same direction, with less intensity?

In a cut-throat culture that we adopt today, there seems to be a pressure to edge out competition by being more innovative. When competition comes up with an idea that we have not thought of, we are at the edge of our seats, hear alarm sounds and push the panic button. We should have thought of it first. But since we have not thought of it first, we have to come up with something better.

What could be wrong with being “good enough?” Why couldn’t the good that we do be not good enough? We keep on pushing the standards up to the limit. In the process, we sacrifice a lot of things because we consider them minor, for the sake of achieving a better good or in this case for the sake of achieving the "best." But could the best be good for us?

Consider the following scenario. You might be going to work following a normal schedule. Suddenly, a light bulb pops in your head and gives you the vision that you can accommodate extra load by going to work a little earlier than your time. So you wake up a little earlier than normal. This goes on for some time until you think that “I could do more work by staying a little late than I usually do.” So you stay a little longer. What is thirty minutes anyway? Then your thirty minutes become an hour. Then an hour becomes two. Suddenly, you have to work extra during the weekend because you have to finish a deadline. This becomes a habit until you no longer realize that what used to be is no longer your normal schedule and that what you are now used to is your new normal schedule.

Again consider the following scenario. Last year you have projected a 75% target and surpassed it by achieving 80%. But you are not contented and so we have to go beyond the target. Since you were able to achieve 80% last year, you have to do better by setting 85% as target. And you will only be happy if you achieve beyond the set target. So you have to overhaul a lot of things. You might be urged to “think out of the box” just to stress to think of something different than the good you have been doing. So you fix something that isn’t even broken. In the end, you set priorities and goals to achieve, but sacrificing the minor things that are good and yet make up a whole.

"Perfection of means and confusion of goals seem - in my opinion - to characterize our age." - Einstein

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