Perfect is the Enemy of Good

La Begueule

Perfect is the enemy of good is an aphorism which is commonly attributed to French philosopher Voltaire, who quoted a similar Italian proverb in his ‘Dictionnaire philosophique’ in 1770. It subsequently appeared in his moral poem ‘La Bégueule.’ 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. Robert Watson-Watt, who developed Britain’s first radar detectors, 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.’

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