The Blog

Why 'Good Enough' Never Is

Pursuing perfection can lead to perfection paralysis. There will always be one more iteration, one more change that will help move things along. But moving things along is motion, not perfection.
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Last week's post focused on impeccability as a possible key to integrity. Raising the question of impeccability coupled with having quoted a reader who found inspiration from Carlos Castaneda on the subject seemed to inspire many while riling the sensibilities of others.

Some took inspiration from the aspirational focus of living to a higher standard, while others trashed the idea as impossible (given the implied notion of impeccable as perfect). Fortunately, this turns out to be another one of those cases where "you're both right." Kind of.

Kind of like one of my favorite quotes from Mark Twain: "All generalizations are false, including this one."

Indeed, perfection is unlikely to be achieved on this planet, and yet striving for impeccability just might be worth the effort. As Dylene wrote to me in an email following last week's article:

Several things came up for me around this great blog, and will most likely continue to do so. Impeccability is a goal for me in my work and my life. While I can't pretend I always attain it, the standard is a good one for me personally.

  • Commitment to deadlines: This has created a more healthy dynamic in my life--in working hard to under-promise and over deliver, I am conscious of the commitments I make nowadays--it wasn't always true. It helps me keep my work impeccable.
  • In the example in your blog of the appointment and searching for a reason to cancel: the times I have done this, it's because I agreed to something that didn't engage my passion. I'm a little more selective now about where I choose to spend my life, and that has increased the quality of my contribution to the places I do attend now. It makes it easier to be impeccable.

You can agree or disagree with Dylene and her approach. You can dismiss her approach to impeccability for any number of reasons. However, if you're Dylene, you have made a choice (striving for impeccability) that has enriched your life, and, most likely, the lives of those with whom you interact.

If you keep playing with this for a bit, you may wind up at a collision point in your thinking: on the one hand, pursuing perfection can lead to perfection paralysis. If the goal is perfection, there will always be one more iteration, one more improvement, one more change that will help move things along. However, moving things along is motion, not perfection.

On the other hand, if you abandon the pursuit of perfection, you may then wind up settling for "good enough." What's good enough? Is there a standard by which "good enough" could be determined? One person's good enough could well be another person's abject failure.

There is a classic story of Debbie Fields, founder of Mrs. Fields Cookies, who early on found herself on a visit to one of the first stores in her chain. Apparently, she was fond of saying something to the effect that you should set your standards so high that even your flaws are considered excellent.

On a surprise visit to the store in question, she came upon a long line of customers waiting for her freshly baked cookies. However, she also noticed the cookies that were coming out of the ovens were overcooked by her standards.

When she asked the manager to taste them before serving, he replied that they were "good enough." Legend has it that having more than a little pride in her products and her name, she replied "Good enough never is."

Debbie apparently took the whole batch and tossed them in the trash and told him to start over. She then went to each of the customers in line, explaining what she had done and why. She let them know that she wanted them to enjoy perfect cookies and offered them free product when it came back up.

Of course, Debbie Fields was acutely aware of the phenomenon, "you-never-get a-second-chance-to-make-a-first-impression" and just how competitive the industry already was. She did not want to risk her brand image with product she considered inferior.

And so "Good enough never is" became the watch word for Mrs. Fields Cookies. Eventually, this lead to a series of standards about cookies including how long they could sit on shelves before being declared "cookie orphans" and donated to local charities.

I guess "cookie orphans" were good enough for someone.

I think the story points to a dilemma, one which plays out in these pages almost daily. Critics can take reasonably good, well-intentioned advice, and twist it beyond recognition by finding fault. In the case of impeccability, some discarded the potential value of the pursuit by raising the perfection flag -- something with which I actually agree: Striving for perfection without being willing to accept "good enough" can lead to an "impossible dream."

Then there's the Castaneda-as-fraud argument. That one is really confounding. If you happen to be one of those supercilious critics, all too ready to dismiss ideas of potential merit because of a flaw you can identify with a proponent of the idea, then it must be really difficult to get out of bed in the morning.

After all, just about every idea, no matter how strong, uplifting or just plain correct, has been uttered, flaunted, touted, misused and otherwise abused by people of all walks and persuasions. Just because a bad guy uses a truthful notion with ill intent, does not make the idea bad.

Perhaps the old cliché about separating the wheat from the chaff comes to mind.

Or, you may be happy to settle for this piece of advice from Mark Twain: "Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please."

I hope you are finding this discussion on living a life of integrity and meaning worthwhile. Or, at least "good enough."

What do you think?

I'd love to hear from you. Please do leave a comment here or drop me an email at Russell (at)


If you want more information on how you can apply this kind of reframing to your life and to your job, about a few simple steps that may wind up transforming your life, please download a free chapter from my book, Workarounds That Work. You'll be glad you did.

Russell Bishop is an educational psychologist, author, executive coach and management consultant based in Santa Barbara, Calif. You can learn more about my work by visiting my website at You can contact me by e-mail at Russell (at)