"Done is better than perfect". This pithy maxim has acquired new currency in the blogosphere recently, ever since it was spotted as a slogan adorning the walls of the Facebook offices. If it's good enough for the phenomenon that is re-shaping human social relations, the implication goes, then it's good enough for us. But how does this square with the concept of Six Sigma quality? And isn't the "good" really the enemy of the "best"?
In my mind, there is no contradiction. Six Sigma, the pursuit of the standard of excellence that allows only 3.4 defects per million opportunities, is specifically designed for stable, repeatable processes. The driver here is the quality expectations of the customer. The "done is better than perfect" philosophy is ideal for innovation, bootstrapping and one-off creative endeavours. An activity is first created in its "beta" form, and then refined up to the standards of Six Sigma quality.
The "done is better than perfect" slogan is so captivating because it highlights the inner tension felt by the classic Type A achiever personality. On the one hand, there is an intense desire to accomplish things; on the other hand, this is frequently restrained by a nagging, ingrained perfectionism that can limit output.
I am no psychologist, but an awareness of the finite nature of time should be a powerful spur to action. It's worth re-reading Andrew Marvell's classic metaphysical poem "To His Coy Mistress" to remind us that delay is, in the long run, fatal. The most famous and evocative lines are surely:
But at my back I always hear
Time's wingèd chariot hurrying near
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
This is one of the most famous carpe diem poems in English literature, and while "done" should not encompass the shoddy, the poor quality or the harmful, it does imply that a good effort, made in good faith, counts for as much as perfection.
The irony is that quite often the urgency of time and an awareness of mortality adds the drive which allows true perfection to flourish. Another example from literature is Dostoyevsky. He was an intellectual idler, flitting through life enjoying flirtations with revolutionary groups and never achieving greatness. Robert Greene, among others, gives an outstanding account of what happened next in The 33 Strategies of War. Here is my take on the famous story:
Dostoyevsky is arrested by the Tsar's troops for sedition. He is blindfolded and put in front of a firing squad. The last view he sees is of the sun shining bright on the golden cupola of a church, and then a cloud extinguishes the sun. And so goes my life, he thought. The soldiers raise their rifles and the order is given to fire...
Suddenly a messenger cries "Stop!" There is a last minute reprieve and the penalty is mitigated to exile in the snowy wastes of Siberia. The Tsar had deliberately staged a mock execution to humble his victims. For Dostoyevsky, that moment changes everything.
Suddenly he writes like a man possessed, knowing that the sands of time are slipping through his fingers. He creates masterpieces - Crime and Punishment, the Brothers Karamazov. He knows the fierce urgency of now.
He realizes that "Done is better than perfect", and in so doing, he achieves perfection.
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