Al Trellis: Ask Al

When Truisms Collide

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Recently I had dinner with a nationally known speaker, whose work is completely outside the homebuilding industry. He mentioned that one of his commencement presentations focused on the theme of “The Good is the Enemy of the Best.” I responded by saying that I often talk about “The Perfect is the Enemy of the Good.” As we talked, it became apparent that several contradictory issues were in play:

  1. Each of us believed that his quote contained a “basic truth.”
  2. Each of us realized that the other’s quote also contained a “basic truth.”
  3. Fundamentally, the two “truths” are in conflict--implying that one had to be, in actuality, false.

And thus began my attempt to understand how such a situation could exist. Upon reflection, I realized this apparent contradiction was entirely possible for two reasons. First, is the issue of what each statement actually means. In the case of the “Good … Best,” the quote is an appeal for constant improvement. It is an admonition against settling for an inferior solution when a better one is attainable. The ”Perfect…Good,” on the other hand, is in reality, a call for action. The fundamental truth of this statement is that sometimes, waiting for perfection will result in failure. Thus we see that there is less intrinsic conflict between the two statements than first appearances might indicate, primarily due to reason number two. All maxims must be judged in the context of the situation. Thus, given the time and resources, it makes all the sense in the world to strive for the best, and not settle for anything less. But in an environment of cut throat competition and fast capable opponents, we may not have the luxury of spending the time necessary to improve upon an acceptable (although not perfect) course of action. The perfect solution delivered too late is not perfect at all.

The lesson learned from this mini collision of philosophies is, in itself quite interesting. Basically, listen to all those pearls of wisdom contained in quotes, proverbs, aphorisms, dictums, and mottos. But more importantly, examine their underlying truths in the total context of your current situation. The environment within which you are operating may not be perfectly analogous to the one envisioned when that “fundamental truth” was created.


Comments (5 Total)

  • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 11:34 AM Saturday, September 21, 2013

    I would look at your discussion in a different way; in its purest sense the argument is a physical discussion where 2 alternatives are presented. Whether good is the enemy of perfect, or perfect is the enemy of good is not as much to the point, as whether who is the judge of good or perfect. With over 30 years in the construction industry and thousands of projects completed, no one can ever agree on what is good and what is perfect. Many times the quality of a product is judged by the price paid. As an example a $2 loaf of bread will never taste as good as a fresh bakery baked loaf of bread at $3. John Clark CEO

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  • Posted by: atrellis | Time: 3:22 PM Wednesday, May 18, 2011

    Glad to see the responses posted - I'll weigh in as follows: 1. Mark362 - I basically agree with you, with the following caveats: first, whether A- work is "not only acceptable" depends on the product, the market, the competition and the buyer; Second, a difference is a difference whether or not the customer understands it. Having said that, I believe you are correct in the sense that if they don't perceive it, they won't want to pay for it and therefore it should probably not be included. 2. bmunsell - It's always a matter of perspective, but this comment is probably germaine. All of the people you mentioned as the potential "happy" people, will in certain circumstances be in conlict (hopefully minor conflict). The builder's real job is to minimize such conflict, and when it arises, make the best decisions possible for the optimized resolution of these conflicts. 3. bob H - first, see my comments to Mark362 above; but additionally, a certain amount of caveat emptor is certainly acceptable. While I would agree with you that we have an obligation to provide fair and full disclosure, it is not always possible to protect consumers from themselves, nor is it possible to list, disclose and/or discuss all of the myriad parts, pieces and decisions contained within a home. I believe that the real answer is somewhere between you and mark362. Again, thanks to everyone who reads my ideas and extra thanks to those who take the time to respond. I was away and didn't realize that my latest post had responses. I will respond more quickly in the future Al Trellis

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  • Posted by: bob H | Time: 5:40 PM Sunday, May 01, 2011

    Am a bit concerned about the comment " if customers cannot tell the difference" in the last posting. Telling the diffference for the customer is a matter of required business ethics. Anything less implies caveat emptor which enables us to pull the wool of less knowledgebable customers.

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  • Posted by: bmunsell | Time: 1:07 AM Saturday, April 30, 2011

    I think it is a matter of perspective. The perfect outcome in any business is a combination of a happy customer, happy employees, happy subs, happy supplies, happy etc. and a happy business owner with a profit.

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  • Posted by: Mark362 | Time: 6:03 PM Thursday, April 28, 2011

    It has been my long held belief that to many Builders look upon themselves as craftsmen that can only do perfect work, anything less must be redone. These are the guys that fail in business, because the majority of our customers do not recognize the difference between A+ work and B work, let along A- work. And yet the difference in time and cost is very large. Simply put, A- work is not only acceptable, but in the competitive market it represents the very best susstainable work. If customers cannot tell the difference, there is no difference.

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About the Blogger

Al Trellis

thumbnail image Al Trellis, the president of Home Builders Network in Mount Airy, MD, has over 35 years experience as a custom builder, engineer, consultant, columnist, and speaker. He’s known for his creativity and insights into improving profits and productivity.