Perfect is the enemy of good

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The perfect is the enemy of the good is an aphorism or proverb meaning that insisting on perfection often results in no improvement at all. The phrase is commonly attributed to Voltaire whose moral poem, La Bégueule, starts[1]

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.[2] 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.[3] 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 stated as "Give them the third best to go on with; the second best comes too late, the best never comes."[4] George Stigler is attributed[5] for the adage "If you never miss a plane, you're spending too much time at the airport."

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Allen W. Wood, Hugh Barr Nisbet, Elements of the philosophy of right 
  2. ^ Tal Ben-Shahar (2009), The Pursuit of Perfect, McGraw Hill Professional, ISBN 978-0-07-160882-4 
  3. ^ E. Gandevia, S. Breakspear, Equip 
  4. ^ L Brown (1999), Technical and Military Imperatives: A Radar History of World War 2, p. 64, ISBN 9781420050660 
  5. ^ [1]