The Danger of “Good Enough”

Reply All is a new podcast I’ve been enjoying lately.  It’s a “show about the Internet.”  Their third episode featured Ethan Zuckerman, an Internet pioneer, apologizing for a very bad thing he did twenty years ago, a thing that really helped to shape the world we live in today. (9Or, at least, the Internet we live with today.))

You should listen to the whole episode – it’s not very long, and it’s embedded below.  And it’s good to know our collective Internet history.

Near the end of the episode, at about the 16 minute mark ((16:10 if you’re in a big hurry and don’t trust my transcription below.)), Ethan sums up something he’s learned from the story he’s just told.  Here’s what he says:

One of the things that I think I’ve learned in all of this is that “good enough” is a really serious problem. So, if you just flat out fail, right, if you do something and it just doesn’t work at all, you can look at it and say that was a fiasco, let’s do something really different.’ If you do something, and it kind of works – it works well enough to support what you were doing, it generates enough revenue to keep the lights on – you tend to get really attached to it, even if it was a pretty lousy solution.

“Good enough” hit me as a concept that gets in the way of, well, plenty of the work I’m doing lately.  Schools are, in many ways, “good enough.”  They’re limping along.  My family relationships?  “Good enough.”  The training I’m doing for my next race?  Heck, even my Angry Birds scores of late ((Angry Birds Transformers?  Makes no sense – but such a fine way to remember my childhood fascination with robots that were cars.  AND robots.)) are “good enough.”

And I wonder what it is that pushes you, me, or anyone to move beyond good enough.  What are the factors and forces, aside from sheer will and determination and downright stubbornness, that will move a person or a group past “good enough” and towards “better than ever” or “continuous improvement” or “let’s nuke this whole thing and start over?”  How do we move organizations, and ourselves, beyond “good enough” in the places and situations where that matters most?

I’m cool if stubbornness is the right approach.  I just wonder if there’re better ways.

16 thoughts on “The Danger of “Good Enough”

  1. The notion of “good enough” generally means “good enough for a specific group.”

    If enough people are uncomfortable, then “good enough” won’t be tolerated for long. At the risk of stating the obvious, if the people paying the bills, or the people with more power aren’t comfortable, then “good enough” won’t be allowed to stand either.

    “Good enough” is also often a euphemism for “the shortsighted decision I’m not willing to reconsider.”

    Yeah – I’ve seen a LOT of projects get hobbled under the weight of “good enough.” I had a writing instructor who would describe the editing process as the process of “killing our kittens” (this was early internet days – before kitten memes/videos. Dark times) – I see moving past “good enough” in a similar light.

    Also, a big Ethan Zuckerman fan. His early perspective on 2nd Life is so spot on. Would love to see other people bring a similar skepticism to contemporary EdTech.

  2. Tom Wolfe (no, not the Tom Wolfe, but it is my real name) says:

    Yes, I’ve recently had to face the fact that a lot of what I’ve been doing in my role as teacher in the past two years has simply been “good enough.” I put together some good curriculum – it challenged the students, but not as much as it should.

    I need to step-up. I need to throw out much of my material that I’ve been hanging on to simply because it has serviced my needs and (I’ve thought) my students’ needs. We can all strive to be better. We all should strive to be better. Throwing my old instruction into a blog, or using Pinterest or whatever other technology that’s available won’t cut it, either. If I did that, it would again simply be “good enough” to show my administrators that I’m moving into the 21st Century techniques.

    But it won’t be good enough for these students.

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