How good are you at getting something to good enough? It turns out that, in many cases, learning to get their creations to good enough is what separates people who thrive in Project World from those who don’t.
Imagine that the quality of ideas or products is laid on a continuum. On one end of the continuum is crap. Not just bad ideas, but genuine crap. On the other end of the continuum is perfection. No one wants to produce crap and few actually do; everyone wants to produce a perfect creation and no one actually does.
Here’s what I’m starting to see, both in my own creations and by reading about the creative processes of others: it’s impossible to get an idea to the excellent stage in a vacuum. The best we can get to on our own is good enough.
I’ll take a second to describe the points along this continuum.
First, there’s the Okay point.
Creations at the Okay level are just that – they’re neither good nor bad. For one reason or the other, they need more work. What separates this point from the next is that it’s often clear what needs to be done to make the creation better. Unfortunately, this is where most half-done projects get stuck, and since they’re stuck here, they don’t get to …
The Good Enough point.
This is the point at which you’ve pushed past okay and you know the creation is not quite there, but either you have no idea how to get it there or you’re not sure which path you should take to get it there. The Good Enough point may manifest itself in the intro that won’t write itself. It may be a function in the code that causes some problem on the backend that makes your program run slower. It may be a color combination that seems close enough but not exactly complementary. And sometimes it’s just a jingle that we spend time on that, in the end, doesn’t matter.
Most creative people do one of two things at this point: quit out of frustration or fiddle with the creation continuously. Excellent creatives, though, are good not solely because they are particularly creative but also because they push the project through the creative red zone. And they surround themselves with other creative peers, who then help them take that good enough creation to …
The Excellent point.
A creation at this level is the best it can be; any more work on the product doesn’t make it better – it just makes it different. Most good creatives know when they’ve reached this point with the product, though they still may have insecurities and creative doubt that prevent them from sharing the product with the broader world. Or they’re grappling with their perfectionism and don’t realize that there’s no such thing as the perfect creation. (At least that mere mortals can create; I’m willing to keep theological options open.)
Why Stop At Good Enough?
Since there is an Excellent point, and I’ve told you how to get there, you may be confused about why I’m stressing getting your work to good enough rather than to excellence. Why stop there?
Because that’s the last point that we have within our own control. Outside of that, we rely on friends, peers, and other people to push it along further. Getting to good enough also lets you focus on surrounding yourself with creative friends who are focused on helping each other get better.
The terror of looking stupid in front of other people is far outpaced by the exhilarating thrill of connecting with people through what you’ve created. The truth is that the success that many creatives push for is gained only by embracing the prospect of failure and getting used to sharing our Good Enough stuff with people.
So, what can you do to get your projects to good enough? How many projects do you have at that stage, and whom can you share them with? Are you fiddling with a project – making it different but not better?
Whatever you do, internalize this saying: “Good enough and done is better than perfect and pending.” (Tweet this.)
Get it to good enough, let it go, and just get it done.
this seems to be a common thread, I noticed it in Nick Cernis Todoodlist, and also The art of nonconformity (at leat i think it was there, I have been reading so much good stuff recently) that it is better to launch your project and improve it, then keep waiting/improving till you think it is perfect. As Nick found out, you project may have no market. Better to get something to the good enough stage, and get feedback then struggle to the excellent but be the wrong solution/project.
I have just launched a new project with about 2 hours though/development, but I think the idea and execution is ‘good enough’. see below for shameless plug. I would love some feedback
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Wow. Serendipity. I have a post going up later today about just this issue in relation to academic writing, using an example from a playwright/novelist. My website is too new for the Comment Luv but you can find the post here.
I think that for people with perfectionist tendencies, what they think of as “good enough” might actually be pretty close to excellent. And they shouldn’t be worried about letting it go at all.
I’m printing this off and inquiring at tattoo shops in the area to see who might be able to permanently inscribe this post on my forearm. Because, yes, I need to read it that often. (Of course, I’d probably wind up fiddling with the tattoo design endlessly, never thinking it’s perfect enough…)
And that’s funny, because It’s. So. True.
*Excellent* post, Charlie.
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Cairene MacDonald says
Someone recently shared this advice with me – one perfectionist to another – 80% is good enough, so stop. It’s helped. It really has. But this gives me something to *do* with that remaining 10-15% of improvement I know is there. This gives me a reason, this explains *why* to stop at 80%. It’s a pause, a necessary transition to the next phase of refinement. Fantastic.
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Kelly Parkinson says
Thanks for this reminder. For big projects, it helps to tell someone (or a group of people) I respect and admire when I’ll have it done, shipped, and ready. Knowing someone is holding me accountable makes me apply nalgas to chair and get it to good enough. Otherwise, those dishes in the sink look like a trip to Disneyland, and everything gets done EXCEPT the one thing I really needed to do.
James | Dancing Geek says
I have a post I’m publishing tomorrow. It’s full of stuff I’ve been milling around. So now I just have to hope it’s good enough and maybe you’ll help me make it excellent?
I like the way you’ve laid this out, Charlie – it appeals to my geek brain!
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Catherine Cantieri, Sorted says
I was reading on another blog recently about the power of our connections with others, and I whipped out this great quote I heard many years ago: “We can only reach our own limitations on our own. Through our connections with others, we can actually stretch the boundaries of what those limitations are.” (Or something similar.) This post puts a cool, practical spin on that idea: your own creativity is bound by your limits, but other people don’t have your limits (they have their own, which are different), so they can help you transcend yours. Great post!
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@Guy: A shameless plug is when you don’t add value to the conversation; otherwise, it’s just a plug. You’ve got a good comment here, so you’re not in the shameless zone. :p
And I forgot that Nick covered that in Todoodlist, as well – it really is a common theme and it’s so hard to follow through with the advice. And your project is definitely good enough to move forward; I’m curious to see who responds. I’d consider finding a way to ask them in a way that puts social pressure on them to do so; do any of them have twitter or facebook profiles?
@JoVE: Great post. (Everyone else: go read it!) And you’re dead on about most people being closer to excellence than they think; as we gain in expertise, our ability to push it to that mark on our own increases. I still wonder whether we can get there faster by letting it go, though. Much to think about.
@Marissa: You’re a fiddler? Say it ain’t so! :p
But instead of getting the whole post, how about the last couple of sentences? It’ll get you there.
@Cairene: I’m glad that this post added value in that way. So your next steps, I guess, are to determine who you trust to help get that 10-15% out of you. It’s both easier and harder than you think…
@Kelly: It’s weird how mundane, mind-numbing chores can look more attractive than projects you initially wanted to do. I can tell when Angela is procrastinating when I see her dusting or cleaning out the shower. Of course, getting her to admit it’s because of Resistance and not the level of cleanliness is a whole different matter. :p
@James: It was better than good enough – you’ve been holding out on us, man! What gives?!
I appreciate your specific comment on presentation. It really helps.
@Catherine: That’s an awesome quote, and I think you’re dead on about where it links up with this one. I think the deeper principle here is that we’re unable to see through our own Stuff when we’re looking at our stuff, but we’re not thrown off when we look at other people’s stuff. The limits we put on ourselves are self-inflicted, but real nonetheless.
Michael Van Osch says
Charlie – appreciate the post! reminds me of Seth’s ‘just ship it’ and is very valuable. especially, i find if you’re on a project that ‘new’ to you, say doing your first webinar or creating a course. cheers man.