One of the most widely mistranslated quotes in all of business is this one attributed to Voltaire: "The perfect is the enemy of the good." I hear this quote a lot as a means to push people into action and not get bogged down by perfection or "analysis paralysis."
Except that's not exactly what Voltaire said. Thanks to Madame Goff in high school, I still have passable fluency in French. The exact quote is this: "Le mieux est l'ennemi du bien."
Le mieux does not mean "perfect." I think we can all agree that nobody, and nothing, is perfect, except Nicholas Cage's performance in Raising Arizona.
Le mieux means "The best." And Voltaire didn't say that The best was the enemy of "the worst" (what you would assume is the polar opposite word), but "the good." And look at how the sentence is phrased--"the best is the enemy of the good." Or, Good's enemy is Best.
Because best always beats good.
Anything we put out that is merely "good" will naturally be beaten. We may learn from getting beat, and that has value. But when "good" slides into "good enough," we are surely not being "the best."
I've never subscribed to the "just ship it" mentality, and the misuse of this quote in justification of that mentality has irked me for years. Whatever you are building or producing isn't going to be perfect--but could it be better? Even better is better than good.
I write this because I have seen so many software and physical products in recent years treat their most valuable customers--the passionate, vocal early adopters--as beta testers. Some customers appreciate that, some don't. Those that don't, don't come back. And that can often be a fatal missed opportunity for a product.
I'd rather be good than perfect. I think we can all agree upon that, which makes the mistranslated quote so darn quotable. But would you also say "I'd rather be good than the best?"
Doesn't sound quite as quotable, does it?
I'd like to be the best at something, even if it's curmudgeonly blog posts.