Good enough is the enemy of humanity 

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The hissing intercom made in China

We watched the movie Blackberry over the weekend, and I must admit I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The Blackberry was never my daily driver, but I owned a few second-hand models as part of my open device lab back in 2013. The lab is closed and those models are living a second life somewhere in Ethiopia thanks to my good friend Lionel who passed them down during his last trip.

Exciting times

I can relate so well to the period depicted in the movie, both in terms of the technology and the pop culture of the time, even though the latter might have been a tidbit exaggerated by moments.

I bought my first cell phone around 1997, when our local operator introduced pay as you go plans (there was no way I could afford a subscription at the time). Nokia and Motorola were releasing amazing handheld phones, I acquired my first PowerBook (and DVD player), my children were born, Wi-Fi was a thing, as was WAP (Wireless Application Protocol), opening up the possibility of accessing information over a mobile wireless network.

The web community was thriving in the early 2000, and web conferences were becoming a thing and Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone at MacWorld in January 2007.

But what prompted my to write this post, is a quote in the movie that resonated strongly with me as it is (sadly) pertains to certain aspects of my industry.

Good enough is the enemy of humanity.

In context it gives this,

So, there’s a reason why your intercom is emitting white noise. It’s because it was manufactured in China by engineers who didn’t care, and now every office in the world has to suffer an annoying hiss, a blinking red light, fifteen different power cords that are utterly incompatible with one another. So, uh. We are not doing that. We are not just adding to the hiss. I will build a prototype, but I’ll do it perfectly or I don’t do it.
Mike, are you familiar with the saying “Perfect is the enemy of good?”
Well, “Good Enough” is the enemy of humanity.

Needless to say, it immediately struck a bell with me.

Perfectionism? Not so much

I’ve been witnessing similar situations arise these last years, and it is not about perfectionism per se.

In my experience, doing the job right, or as good as you can, always pays off in the long run. You feel good about it, it’s recognised by your colleagues or peers, it enables you to build upon it, it prevents nasty surprises down the road, etc. Doing the job well doesn’t always mean it will take significantly longer, and it isn’t about delaying it forever either.

What I noticed is a gradual lack of ownership and pride of the work done in the name of the “Move fast and break things” approach. This way of doing things can work in an innovative context and dynamic work environment, where things get fixed, and better over time, but less so in a corporate environment where you’re on multiple projects at once, putting out fires, and trying to figure out what the priorities are.

What I’m seeing is more of a “Move fast, and cut corners because nobody cares - or will notice”. I’ve seen this occur before when companies have slowly pivoted their focus from solving problems for their visitors and serving their customers, to solving the pressing demands of their stakeholders.

It leads to frustration, loss of commitement and resentment (when it’s not burnout). The workforce is under a lot of pressure today, uncertainties as of their employment, add to it a dose of climate and social related anxiety, and the overall picture is gloomy.

[…] the “move fast and break things” era is over. “Minimum viable products” must be replaced by “minimum virtuous products”—new offerings that test for the effect on stakeholders and build in guards against potential harms.
Hemant Taneja

Don’t add to the hiss

Working both at University and as a freelancer, I have been very fortunate. I’ve met amazing teams and individuals, many of whom have become friends. Most of the few teams I’ve had the opportunity of collaborating with on the long run, built their own culture of best effort, responsibility, empathy and sharing. It’s not always the case.

“Good enough is the enemy of humanity – don’t just add to the hiss”…would make a good t-shirt.

20240710 update: David G. designed the quote… stay tuned.

T-shirt project: Good enough is the enemy of humanity

My t-shirt project - design courtesy of David Glauser

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