I’ve been re-reading the book, “Good is the Enemy of Great” by Kurt Reece-Peeplez lately. I mentioned the title to a friend, and she said, “Oh, you mean the business book by Jim Collins?”.
That stopped me in my tracks! A short Google search later, I was surprised to find that the quotes, “Good is the enemy of great” or “Better is the enemy of good” have been attributed to several thought leaders beginning with Voltaire, of all people. And he cited it as an “old Italian proverb” when he published the idea in the 18th century! We often think of it as being said by business leader Jim Collins much more recently, but even John D. Rockefeller, one of the world’s leading industrialists around the turn of the 20th century said, “Don’t be afraid to give up the good to go for the great.”
In fact, there are so many citations leading to well-known authors adopting this phrase as their own that I spent an interesting afternoon reading their various takes on the idea.
Here’s what I learned:
First, not everyone agrees. Much has been written on the idea that the push to greatness can, in some instances, actually be deleterious to one’s mental health, especially children and teens who are still establishing lifelong habits. If the desire to achieve greatness results in stressful, paralyzing, perfectionism, then the idea has not born the intended fruit.
Second, the phrase can be a guiding beacon for business and other organizational leaders to prioritize and pursue initiatives that go beyond their day-to-day operations and which can lead to greatness. Rockefeller would be proud of this application.
Personally, the phrase has reminded me that I deserve the best in my life. Why be complacent because it is easier? I don’t need to win every battle in life or serve my family steak every night even though they love it. But when something is important like our health or my kids’ education or our family relationships, good really is the enemy of great.
Here’s an example: Several years ago, I went in for my regular mammogram. With a furrowed brow, the radiologist kept looking at the images, making faces and small “grunts”. Clearly, she saw something that was bothering her. When I inquired about her reactions, she simply said, “You have a lump that ought to be biopsied. You’ll need to make an appointment for that. Insurance will not cover a biopsy today.” My response, after the initial, overwhelming shock of her unemotional words, was to say, “but I’m here NOW. I don’t WANT to wait”. Breast cancer runs rampant in my family. While I have always prided myself on maintaining a healthy lifestyle, I knew enough not to take my “good health” for granted. I also knew that really up until that moment, I never made myself a priority; rather, as a mother of two very young children at the time and seemingly infinite work/life responsibilities, my focus was on anything and everything EXCEPT for me. I’d probably skip the biopsy appointment or postpone it until it was “convenient”. This was all going through my head at once, and in the split-second that followed, I announced to the radiologist that I wasn’t leaving until a biopsy was done even if I had to pay for the visit out of pocket. And guess what? I did have cancer. Had I waited longer and not taken matters into my own hands, the ultimate outcome might have been entirely different.
This is what I mean by seeking the very best for ourselves in those areas of life that matter the most. In my world, it really doesn’t matter if I wash every dish in the sink before I go to bed at night.
But our health matters. Nutrition matters. Education matters. Time together matters. The list is longer than this, but these items top it. I want to be great in these areas of life.
As you think about the ideas behind the phrase, “Good is the Enemy of Great”, what comes to your mind? Business? Personal achievement? Family wellness?
I’m glad I realized it applies to my life in a more fulsome way than just as a business slogan. I hope you’ll give it a little thought and see if it means more to you, too.