Thursday, April 16, 2009

The perfect flaw: quotation mark philosophy

Perfect is the enemy of good -Voltaire

Good is the enemy of great - Jim Collins

Whether you read 18th century French philosophers or 20th century business book writers, the aspiration to explain 'how to' obtain success in life's pursuits tends to get boiled down to quotable quotes. Without embarking on an exhaustive (and exhausting) literature review, though, let's look at the two quotes above.

Are these two philosophies for success mutually exclusive?

How one answers that question depends entirely on how one defines the relationship between three words: Good, Great, and Perfect. For instance, if one believes that great = perfect, then the answer is yes...they are opposing philosphies. 

So what?

This is all just words, right? What's the big deal? Besides, this blog is supposed to have something to do with marketing or the interwebs or social facespacing or something like that, right? 

Ok, it's like marketeers and advertising advocates we (as in the collective 'we') have a long history of thinking we get to define our brands. We spend time ever-polishing and striving for the great idea to realize the one perfect positioning, strategy and elements of communication. Trouble is, after all that, someone else (the customer or the client) gets to define whether it's great. Not us. Ever.

You don't get owt [something] for nowt [nothing]. -Benjamin Disraeli

So if you are a marketer who believes that great = perfect, then by extension you beleive that someone you don't control (which is to say everyone but yourself) sees the world just like you. That's the ultimate market of one, marketing to oneself.

If you beleive though that great = good, then the good work is the work that accomodates the innumerably imperfect ways in which diverse customers will define it.  To paraphrase Disraeli's north country quote above, "you don't get good from nothing". And nothing is what we get when we allow the pursuit of the perfect to paralyze good actions...that is not is costly.

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