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.)
Were it not sinful then, striving to mend,
To mar the subject that before was well?
The meaning of "The perfect is the enemy of the good" is that we might never complete a task if we have decided not to stop until it is perfect. In that sense, completing the project well ("the good") is made impossible by striving to complete it perfectly.
The Pareto principle or 80–20 rule is a 20th-century analogue. 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.
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 described as, "Give them the third best to go on with; the second best comes too late, the best never comes."
- Gold plating (software engineering)
- Nirvana fallacy
- Worse is better
- In the field of computer program optimization, Donald Knuth is often quoted: "Premature optimization is the root of all evil"
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- Eric Johns (October 1988), "Perfect is the Enemy of Good Enough", U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings: 37
- Robert Watson-Watt (1957), "The Cult of the Imperfect", Three Steps to Victory, Odhams, pp. 74–77