Perfect is the enemy of good

What’s the meaning of the phrase ‘Perfect is the enemy of good’

The phrase encourages its recipient to just get started and not worry too much about making things perfect.

What’s the origin of the phrase ‘Perfect is the enemy of good’?

The phrase “Perfect is the enemy of good” originates from a French proverb “L’ennemi du bien est le bien”.

The phrase is most commonly attributed to the famous French philosopher, writer and activist François-Marie Arouet, better known by his pen name, M. de Voltaire.

The phrase “Perfect is the enemy of good” appears in both Voltaire’s Dictionnaire Philosophique, published in 1764, and in his moral poem La Bégueule, published in 1772. An alternative, and perhaps more accurate, translation of this quote might be “The best is the enemy of the good”. Voltaire also quotes an Italian proverb, with the same meaning in his book Questions sur l’Encyclopédie, published in 1770.

However, there has been a previously recorded use of the same sentiment, dating back to 1726, by Motesquier, a French historian and political philosopher, in a collection of writings called Mes Pensées, which was eventually published at the end of the 1700s.

A very similar sentiment was conveyed by William Shakespeare in his play King Lear, published in 1606, in the lines:

“Were it not sinful then, striving to mend,
To mar the subject that before was well.”

A proverb with similar meaning to “Perfect is the enemy of good” has been attributed to Chinese culture, phrased as “Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without one.”

What are some notable uses of the phrase ‘Perfect is the enemy of good’?

The phrase remains popular today and sees great use in the fields of business, innovation, education, and personal development.

Take MVP for example. The concept of MVP, that is Minimum Viable Product, is a version of a product with just enough features to satisfy early customers and provide feedback for future development. This way, MVP embodies the idea that “Perfect is the enemy of good.”

In self-help literature, the idea is used to good effect in “The Lean Startup” by Eric Ries, to get feedback early on, and in “Getting Things Done” by David Allen, to discourage procrastination.

Cari Mayhew - Author at Phrase Finder

Cari Mayhew

Lifelong learner, phrase fanatic, and lover of literature across multiple genres. Cari Mayhew has a passion for expression, and a keen curiosity for how phrases begin and how their use transforms over time. She is often found looking for the ideal idiom to convey her thoughts and musings.