The seduction of “good enough”

What an amazing world we live in. Information flying about at the speed of light. Cures or treatments for many major diseases. Airplanes. Food for many, if not most. Cat food that tastes like pate.

It almost feels churlish to complain.

But here’s the deal: almost everything is lousy.

Sure, it’s way way better than it was. Sure it’s a miracle.

But is anything as good as it could be?

Maybe a cup of Starbucks coffee or a Scharffenberger chocolate bar. But almost everything else needs a lot of work.

That canoe could be half the weight. There’s no reason to wait an hour to get on an airplane. Software development should be twice as fast at half the cost.

And what’s with the layout of this keyboard? They came up with a keyboard a century ago, decided it was good enough and then stopped! Holy Carpal Tunnel, Batman.

I’ve got a few posts worth on this topic, but here are my two big ideas to start:

1. Humans tend to work on a problem until they get a good enough solution, instead of a solution that’s right.

2. The marketplace often rewards solutions that are cheaper and good enough, instead of investing in the solution that promises to lead to the right answer.

This all sounds pessimistic. Are we doomed to inefficient products, unreliable computers, overpriced services and new devices that last for a while and then just plain break?

I don’t think so. I think that the open nature of the web and the hypercompetitive environment of worldwide competition are pushing things in two different directions at the same time. First, the hyper-cheap, sort of junky stuff that discounters and others want to sell in volume. And second, the relentless pursuit of better. (RPB). RPB is the opposite of good enough. It’s not Jack Welch’s six sigma nonsense in which engineers codify mediocrity. It’s a consistent posture of changing the rules on an ongoing basis.

David Neeleman, CEO of JetBlue, was talking today about the way he’s running the airline. By any measure, it’s good enough. Hey, it’s far and away the best airline the USA. But he’s not even close to settling. He riffed today about turning one out of three bathrooms on every one of his planes into a ladies only room. What a great idea. Low cost. Fast. And RPB.

I asked him why he doesn’t raise the price on the 20,000 flights they fly from New York to Florida (every day). If he raised it $10, he’d make an extra $11 million a year in profit! Without losing a customer.

He said, "We could always do that later. Right now, it keeps us focused and hungry and efficient to do it for less."