The Enemy of Better

By Ron Pereira Updated on January 13th, 2011

WinningDo you aspire to be the best?  How about your company… do they want to be the best? If so, I contend this is the deadliest goal you or your organization can have. Allow me to explain.

You see if you are indeed the “best” as defined by things like wealth, popularity, stock price, or market share there’s a good chance you could become complacent.

If, on the other hand, your goal is to always be better you will never grow complacent since you are no longer competing against others. Instead, you are competing against perfection which can’t be beaten.

So, it could be said that the enemy of better… is best. Do you agree?

  1. Brian Buck

    May 5, 2008 - 8:01 am

    I don’t know Ron, “your goal is to always be better” sounds like continuous improvement to me! he he he

    I agree BEST is the enemy of better (both in life and the workplace). I am an internal consultant and I see value streams want to be BEST right out of the gate but can only get better in a one-week workshop. Better gives momentum to an ideal state(best). However, what appears to be BEST today will only be considered better tomorrow once the bar is raised.

    Thanks for your thought provoking post. I wish you all the best (oops I mean better)!

  2. Dimitri

    May 5, 2008 - 1:33 pm

    Better is best? Or is best better? Oh, I am so confused!

    Seriously, thank you for an interesting post. As a philosophical concept, I agree that striving for “better” is advantageous to striving for “best”. However, I think that both words bring their pitfalls.

    For example, with “better” one could fall into a form of complacency. How many struggling companies say “I do not know why we cannot get out of this hole: we are doing ‘better’ than we were last year, but the bottom line is still flat”..? Perhaps those leaders are using “better” as a means of avoiding any thoughts of “best”. Furthermore, one might think that their fundamental philosophical failure is that they have forgotten that while their processes are getting “better” so are the processes of the competition. End result: they are “better” only compared to themselves; they are not “better” compared to the moving target presented by the real world.

    On the other hand, “best” focused philosophy presents the issues mentioned above. “Best” can also lead to myopic tunnel vision. Think back to organizations obsessed with being the best in a single way, to the detriment of other aspects of their overall strategic makeup.

    Perhaps the “best” solution (or is it the “better” solution??) is to incorporate both terms into regular use. Thus, the best way to be better at besting your best is to better your use of both “best” and “better.” …somebody shoot me.

  3. Ron Pereira

    May 5, 2008 - 11:48 pm

    Thanks for the great comments Brian and Dimitri. They both made me think. All the better…


  4. John Hunter

    May 6, 2008 - 5:29 pm

    I think continually striving to be better is a better strategy. There are some specific problems with a goal to be the best: 1) what the heck does it mean 2) if it were defined sensibly there is the possibility of avoiding the good ideas because the goal to be the best is too far away (those small changes can’t get you there so why bother…

    But I don’t think it is a deadly goal. It is almost assuredly totally meaningless. It is unlikely to be effective at changing behavior in any way. Therefor the danger for harm is low. More dangerous goals are things that will drive behavior changes in your company.

    Give salespeople monthly sales goals and base their pay on sales so they are encouraged to sell without regard to anything else – so they sell whatever gives them the most reward not what your customers need. Give your managers goals to cut costs this quarter and give them huge bonuses for doing so… Such goals are much more deadly in my opinion.

  5. Chris Akins

    May 9, 2008 - 9:49 am

    Interesting post Ron. I’m not certain I agree entirely as I’ve always viewed continuous improvement as being aimed at becoming the best you can be (company or personal). To the extent that the goal of being “the best” is dynamic (you can never be the best for long unless you are continuously improving) I suppose the post makes sense.

    But its something to think about.


  6. Ron Pereira

    May 9, 2008 - 10:56 am

    Great thoughts, as usual, Chris. Thanks for sharing.

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