"Good is the enemy of great" - but which do we want?

"Good is the enemy of great" has the ring if a great philosophical truth, but in writing my last post, I thought, "Wait - which of the two should we be aiming for?"

Some quick research revealed that the quote is generally attributed to Voltaire; the original French is "Le mieux est l'ennemi du bien", which has the connotation of:
"Leave well enough alone," that is, don't waste time looking for a perfect solution when there are countless good-enough solutions.
Later, the meaning began being flipped, notably by Jim Collins in Good to Great, to mean that those who settle for "good" will never become "great.

So which should it be? Obviously it depends a lot on context. In sports, for example, it seems that aspiring for greatness and not settling is generally what an elite athlete should be doing. In the realm of politics, on the other hand, aspirations for perfection are generally a bad thing - see Nader/Gore in the 2000 U.S. presidential election, or the (hopefully positive) example of the Waxman-Markey bill that passed the House. But in business, I see no way to draw a hard and fast rule - either way is too easy to refute with real-life counterexamples. So perhaps the only absolute truth in business is that the two are in tension, and part of what business leaders must do is make the judgment of when to pursue good and when to pursue great. Perhaps it is by those decisions that their own greatness should be judged.

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