Perfect is the enemy of good

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This natural diamond crystal contains flaws and the flawless diamonds called paragons are rare.

"Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without."


Perfect is the enemy of good is an aphorism or proverb which is commonly attributed to Voltaire whose moral poem, La Bégueule, starts[2]

Aristotle, Confucius and other classical philosophers propounded the principle of the golden mean which counsels against extremism in general.[3] 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.[4] Achieving absolute perfection may be impossible and so, as increasing effort results in diminishing returns, further activity becomes increasingly inefficient.

Its sense in English literature can be traced back to Shakespeare,[5] for example in his tragedy King Lear the Duke of Albany warns

and his Sonnet ciii:[6]

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."[7] Economists such as George Stigler say that "If you never miss a plane, you're spending too much time at the airport."[8][9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ M.P. Singh (2005), Quote Unquote (A Handbook of Quotations), p. 223, ISBN 8183820085 
  2. ^ Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Allen W. Wood, Hugh Barr Nisbet, Elements of the philosophy of right 
  3. ^ Tal Ben-Shahar (2009), The Pursuit of Perfect, McGraw Hill Professional, ISBN 978-0-07-160882-4 
  4. ^ E. Gandevia, S. Breakspear, Equip 
  5. ^ Allen's Dictionary of English Phrases GoogleBooks, access date October 19th 2014
  6. ^ Shakespeare's Sonnets Sonnet ciii (103) online compendium © Oxquarry Books Ltd
  7. ^ L Brown (1999), Technical and Military Imperatives: A Radar History of World War 2, p. 64, ISBN 9781420050660 
  8. ^ Bryan Caplan (May 20, 2010), If You Never Miss a Plane..., Library of Economics and Liberty 
  9. ^ Steven E. Landsburg (2008), More Sex Is Safer Sex: The Unconventional Wisdom of Economics, Simon and Schuster, p. 224, ISBN 9781416532224