Done is Better Than Perfect
By Tom Peterson
Benjamin Franklin said, “Well done is better than well said.” Now we say action speaks louder than words. But this is different; it’s about getting work done and pushing it out the door. The phrase done is better than perfect became a mantra in Facebook’s “hacker culture,” described here in Mark Zuckerberg’s letter to potential investors:
Hackers try to build the best services over the long term by quickly releasing and learning from smaller iterations rather than trying to get everything right all at once. To support this, we have built a testing framework that at any given time can try out thousands of versions of Facebook. We have the words “Done is better than perfect” painted on our walls to remind ourselves to always keep shipping.
This related concept, shipping, is championed and described by Seth Godin:
If you’re the team member that makes things happen, you become indispensable. If you and your organization are the ones (the only ones) that can get things done, close the sale, ship the product and make a difference, you’re the linchpins—the ones we can’t live without.
If you haven’t already, watch Godin’s talk on shipping and lizard brains.
Done is better than perfect: The Beatles
By the way, what is perfect? Paul McCartney’s Blackbird—is it done or perfect? I lean toward perfect. But most Beatles recordings (there are around 300) are simply done. Yet their combined effect was a fantastically creative body of work.
In the early years, the group performed relentlessly and found its sound. And when they were in song writing mode, Lennon and McCartney would set up a series of days. Paul would drive to John’s house on the scheduled day, “We always wrote a song a day, whatever happened we always wrote a song a day,” he said. “We never had a dry day.”
Voltaire wrote, “Perfect is the enemy of the good.” Had the Beatles performed only their perfect work perfectly, we’d have never heard of them.
As we create projects and campaigns to improve the world, we shoot for not perfect but done. Yes, we should develop our programs as well as we can. But will any of our work be perfect? Not likely.
We shouldn’t even shoot for perfection. Speaking on writing, author Anne Lamott says,
Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.
Not surprisingly, if we’re doing little because we’re not sure what to do, if we’re waiting for it to be perfect, our results will be nothing. People who make a difference, who tackle social problems, usually draw upon many years of struggling with an issue before they breakthrough. Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai said, “Unless you are struggling with finding an answer, there is a guarantee that you won’t find it. Your contribution will be minimal.”
The Cult of Done
Below is the Cult of Done’s manifesto by a couple of guys who gave themselves 20 minutes to write it:
Dear Members of the Cult of Done,
I present to you a manifesto of done. This was written in collaboration with Kio Stark in 20 minutes because we only had 20 minutes to get it done.
The Cult of Done Manifesto
- There are three states of being. Not knowing, action and completion.
- Accept that everything is a draft. It helps to get it done.
- There is no editing stage.
- Pretending you know what you’re doing is almost the same as knowing what you are doing, so just accept that you know what you’re doing even if you don’t and do it.
- Banish procrastination. If you wait more than a week to get an idea done, abandon it.
- The point of being done is not to finish but to get other things done.
- Once you’re done you can throw it away.
- Laugh at perfection. It’s boring and keeps you from being done.
- People without dirty hands are wrong. Doing something makes you right.
- Failure counts as done. So do mistakes.
- Destruction is a variant of done.
- If you have an idea and publish it on the internet, that counts as a ghost of done.
- Done is the engine of more.
Done is Better than Perfect: Quotes
“You have to finish things — that’s what you learn from, you learn by finishing things.” —Niel Gaiman
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
— Leonard Cohen
Photo: Beatles with producer George Martin. Wikimedia Commons.