Good Enough

We often hear the expression, “Good enough for government work,” which today is translated as, “It barely meets the requirements.” Originally, the specifications for products purchased by the government were higher than for similar products aimed at the general public, so it meant that it was top quality. Obviously, the meaning has changed quite a bit. I’m not sure if it is just a grammatical change or if it somehow reflects changing attitudes toward “government.”


Of course we should strive for perfection, or at least perfection as we perceive it. While thinking about this, at first I thought that this might apply mostly to the arts, but then I thought about the many artists whose work was not appreciated until after they are dead and buried: Nikola Tesla, Vincent van Gogh, Edgar Allen Poe, and even Johannes Gutenberg. Maybe not perfection, but head and shoulders above the crowd.


However, is perfection worth waiting for? Was Sir Edmund Hillary the best mountain climber? We don’t know, but we do know he was good enough to be the first to reach the summit of Mount Everest. We don’t know if Neil Armstrong was the greatest astronaut, but we do know that he was skilled enough to land the Lunar Module even though the intended landing site was unsafe. Likewise, we don’t know if William Shakespeare was the greatest playwright, or if Socrates was the greatest philosopher. However, each was good enough to make a major contribution to the betterment of humankind.


The Pareto principle tells us that generally we can achieve 80 percent of a goal with 20 percent of the available resources; the last 20 percent will consume the remaining 80 percent. The 80 percent level of achievement is often “good enough.” At the least, the cost benefit ratio of achieving the first 80 percent (a bird in the hand) is much better than the final 20 percent a bird in the bush).


Yes, we should strive for perfection. However, don’t miss an opportunity because you’re not perfect; you just might be good enough.


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