Perfect is the enemy of good
Perfect is the enemy of good is an aphorism which is commonly attributed to Voltaire, who quoted an Italian proverb in his Dictionnaire philosophique in 1770: "Le meglio è l'inimico del bene". It subsequently appeared in his moral poem, La Bégueule, which starts
Dans ses écrits, un sage Italien
Dit que le mieux est l'ennemi du bien.
(In his writings, a wise Italian
says that the best is the enemy of the good)
Aristotle, Confucius and other classical philosophers propounded the principle of the golden mean which counsels against extremism in general. The Pareto principle or 80–20 rule explains this numerically. For example, it commonly takes 20% of the full time to complete 80% of a task while to complete the last 20% of a task takes 80% of the effort. Achieving absolute perfection may be impossible and so, as increasing effort results in diminishing returns, further activity becomes increasingly inefficient.
Were it not sinful then, striving to mend,
To mar the subject that before was well?
Watson-Watt, who developed early warning radar in Britain to counter the rapid growth of the Luftwaffe, propounded a "cult of the imperfect", which he stated as "Give them the third best to go on with; the second best comes too late, the best never comes." Economist George Stigler says that "If you never miss a plane, you're spending too much time at the airport."
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- Robert Watson-Watt (1957), "The Cult of the Imperfect", Three Steps to Victory, Odhams, pp. 74–77