Good or Great: Is 80% Effort Good Enough?

RODA-marketing-good-to-greatAre you an 80 percenter?

Are you confident that no matter what you take on, you’ll do a good job… at least an 80% job?

Most people I know do at least an 80% job of just about everything they do. That’s just their baseline.

Doing a good job is the norm. I expect it of my friends and acquaintances and they expect it of me.

If 100% = “Great,” then 80% = “Good”

With that logic, 80% of excellent is a good job.

What’s Your Percentage of Excellence?

If you were to assign yourself a percentage that reflects your base-line standard of quality for most everything you do, what number would you choose?

I’m not asking for accuracy here. Just a gut sense of how much effort and excellence¬†you insist on for most of your projects before you consider them done.

Good Enough for Seth Godin…

Seth Godin, whose work I admire, often talks about the need to focus on getting things done and out the door. “Ship it!” is the phrase he uses.

He implies that while high quality is something to strive for, you shouldn’t fixate on it if it keeps you from launching your work into the world.

Mind you, Seth is all for high quality, but not at the expense of not getting a job done and out the door for the world to judge and comment on and adopt (or not).

Good Enough for Me…?

Here are the two questions I’ve been asking myself:

  1. What’s the difference between good and great?
  2. And just how important is it to get to great?


Is Merely Good, Good Enough?

Have you noticed how difficult it is to get from good to great?

Reaching that higher level of excellence demands much more will, determination, energy and resources. It demands a singleness of purpose that’s hard to tap consistently.

Every once in a while, if you’re lucky, you can find that sense of passion and obsession that lets you raise your quality from good to great. But I find myself unable to operate at that level consistently.

And perhaps that highest level of excellence really doesn’t matter. Perhaps mostly good and only occasionally great is good enough.

Perhaps Good is Better Than Great

My wise father, whom I have quoted before on this blog, once told me that he preferred people who got A’s and B’s in school over those who got straight A’s.

I, of course, found great relief in that because I wasn’t a straight A student and sometimes worried that I let him down with every B.

But no, my father told me that he preferred people who were broadly curious and for whom learning was more important than being the best.

Take My Father’s Approach to Heart

Be happy to be an 80 percenter with an occasional episode of 90% or 100% when you simply can’t resist.

Enjoy the process of learning as much — or more — than the sense of striving to be the best.

Forgive yourself for your little errors. (And you will make them.)

Fully appreciate someone else’s excellence without feeling that you are less than.

But be sure to do things well enough to be fully responsible and hold your head up high even though you know that it might have been better.

I think good is enough for most of us most of the time. It leaves space for curiosity and exploration and learning new things.  And that is great!

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Notice the Difference Between Good and Great

Pick a small task you’re doing this week and push your standards to your limits of greatness. Do an even better job than you would normally do. But pay attention to the toll it takes… the time, the resources and the emotional stress.

Maybe the extra effort will be worth it. Maybe it won’t. Either way, you’ll learn something about yourself. And learning may trump being the best, as my wise father believed.

In the comments, please share your ideas on how important it is to strive for greatness and how that influences your choices in life.

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  • This reminds me of the concept of “satisficing.” I first learned of it in reading “The Paradox of Choice,” by Barry Schwartz. Schwartz distinguishes between “maximizers,” who agonize over even small choices & try to do everything perfectly – whether it’s an assignment at work or picking a new pair of jeans – vs. “satisficers” who are willing to just do the 80 percent – or maybe even less – if that is good enough for the purpose at hand.

    Beyond that, you introduce an additional wrinkle – one that came up for me a lot as a writer. Like many writers I was always inclined to rework my initial drafts over and over and over and over before letting anyone see them . . . until one day I realized that this was a bit like putting up wallpaper on a house that might have to be torn down and rebuilt. In other words, it was sometimes more useful to write a fairly rough draft & send it out for feedback, than to polish that draft in the absence of feedback. Of course this assumes access to good feedback!

    • Andrea Kihlstedt

      Thanks, Randy. I don’t know the work of Barry Schwartz. Will look it up. And yes, sometimes, in fact, I think most times, it’s better to send things out for feedback in the earlier stages. Not only does it help you see what you have or haven’t done, but it builds a team around you. And that is yet another wrinkle worthy of a post! I love your comments, Randy. Thx for them.