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Don’t Let Perfect Be the Enemy of Good

lesson learned mentor Oct 05, 2021

by Nguyen “Tom” Griggs



Have you ever found yourself stuck in the negative feedback loop of perfection? It’s an odd mind trap in which no matter what you do, your efforts never seem perfect. You look back and think, I could’ve done X, Y or Z just a little better.

Most of us have been there — unfortunately. While it’s true there are times when you have to push yourself to do better, there are also times when good is good enough.

Yes, hard work matters. However, it’s useful to consider something my late father used to say: “Work hard but work smart, too.” Sometimes your efforts and the results you achieve are simply good enough. Period.

A popular saying, often attributed to architect William McDonough, is “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.” If you know anything about architects, you know that the pursuit of perfection is often a struggle for them. My wife Kimberly Phipps-Nichol frequently uses McDonough’s words in her interior-design business.

She tells me that clients and junior designers often become focused on the “perfect solution,” but what seems like the perfect answer can be fraught with budget issues and structural constraints, which end up causing additional problems.

Whenever people fixate on the perfect solution, Kimberly likes to remind them that perfect shouldn’t become the enemy of good. A good solution that encompasses elements of the perfect answer but doesn’t create more problems is usually best.

Let’s take a moment and look at perfect vs. good in the business of martial arts.


Rank Promotions

No doubt you’ve been in belt-testing situations — sometimes as the student and other times as the instructor — when a decision had to be made. For example, a student has completed his or her testing requirements, but was everything good enough?

The student’s forms could have been cleaner, the combinations could have been sharper, and the sparring could have been more precise. But are your expectations realistic based on the person’s ability? Or are you expecting the student to perform better simply because it’s a test?

If a person performs at the best of his or her ability at the time of the test, isn’t that good enough?


Teaching Class

Have you ever taught a class while seemingly on autopilot? Everything went well, no one got hurt and it was solid lesson — but was it your best work?

As an industry, we rarely talk about perfect teaching. Rather, we focus on teaching the best classes. That same mindset should be applied to everything you do as a leader.

When you seek the best from your team members and yourself, you must be willing to accept that some days, good is as good as it gets. I’m not saying you should settle for mediocrity when it comes to effort, but in seeking the best from your team members, you must not come across as a person who demands perfection.

Perfection can be seen from the three perspectives: attainability, sustainability and teachability. It’s hard to attain because it is truly subjective. For example, two people who perform the same kata will never look the same; therefore, perfection is unattainable.

Perfection is hard to sustain. A person may execute a perfect movement once, but it’s unlikely he or she will be able to achieve the same result every time. Look at the manufacturing industry: Managers know this, which is why defects are an expected component of production.

Perfection is hard to teach. Even someone who’s close to perfect in his or her performance may not be able to teach others to achieve the same. Great martial arts teachers sometimes confess that they struggle in comparison to their masters or other seniors they know.

It’s important to remember that focused, steady practice is what creates progress and improvement. Keep your students working smart and hard, and they’ll get better.


Nguyen “Tom” Griggs is a professional consultant/speaker on subjects that include teams, leadership and conflict. To contact him, send an email to [email protected].


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