I'm guessing people here are familiar with the idea of 80% of the results coming from 20% of the effort. Although the numbers don't hold in every situation, the basic idea works for most. I'm guessing people are also familiar with the Lean Startup, which emphasises quick 'n' dirty versions to enable rapid testing. People might not be familiar with Boyd's OODA loop (observe, orient, decide, act) -- but the idea is you want to move through the loop as fast as possible, and gain a strategic edge on the opposition.
I'm guessing people are also familiar with Apple, which follows a different philosophy -- aim for 100% every time, even if it means your products cost twice as much as the competition.
These philosophies aren't really opposed. Sebastian had a good post about this (which I can't find right now). You want to aim for 80/20 crappiness, or 100/100 awesomeness. You don't want to get stuck at the sucky zone in the middle.
However, how can you decide which things to 80/20, and which things to 100/100?
I've realised recently that I might be overly biased towards the 80/20 approach. How can you tell when you should be aiming for greatness, not quick completion?
I think when you've been working on a project for longer than a week, it's time to reconsider. It's generally not fun working on something you want to finish as soon as possible. Hopefully you finish it quickly and it's just another chore. But walking the quick 'n' dirty road for weeks, with no end in sight, is pure misery.
I've had this experience recently, with a freelance project I expected to take 4 days, and has so far lasted 2 weeks. Slogging at it day after day was depressing. As soon as I realised that it was going to take longer than I thought, and that I should really do a good as job as possible, the project became much more enjoyable.
A much larger example is American intervention in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other places. They were hoping for a short, quick campaign. As things got bogged down, they kept talking about pulling out as quickly as possible. Things just got messier. If they'd planned from the start to be there for the long haul, things might have got resolved sooner. (I'm aware that this may be more the fault of election-wary politicians than the military strategists). Then Obama is thinking of invading Libya, "just a lightning operation". Yeah...
Summary: if something's worth doing, and it can't be done quickly, then it should be done well. Strive for greatness and mastery in everything you're committed too. That way lies happiness.
A few days ago, I wrote an open letter to a good friend of mine - "I Think Greatness is Something You Are, Not Something You Do" - I said to him, I'm not a great man, just a normal man working on great things. Greatness is something you do, not something you are.
To give you some background, my friend Brendon is just one of the most amazingly good people in the world. He takes care of everyone around him, his mind, body, and spirit are sharp. He's a black belt, an excellent programmer, a philosopher, a Shodan in Go (actually, even stronger than that - he's a Shodan under the Asian rankings, so probably even higher in America), a hard worker, extremely loyal, a clear and free thinker, widely read and knowledgeable, and again - an amazingly good guy. I've learned a lot from him (notably, he taught me how to play Go, sysadmin Linux, understand basketball at a very high level, improve at martial arts, improve my fitness, and other good stuff - we'd usually go drink green tea and play Go at Samurai Restaurant in Boston, go fight in the park, talk philosophy out at nightclubs, do stuff like that).
He wrote back to me about greatness and humility. I think this is a really beautiful piece, so I asked him if I could gently edit it and put it up. He graciously agreed. It's long, but go ahead and just start it and give it whatever time you have - there's a lot of amazing insight in here.
A Quick Favor Request - if you learn from this or it helps you, please send Brendon a quick email to firstname.lastname@example.org - he was actually a little gun-shy about having such a personal piece put up with such raw power in it. He only agreed when I told him how many people it could help - so please, drop him a short line to say thanks if this teaches you as much as it did me.
Without further ado...
When I started this blog in 2006, my first post was about my belief in the 80/20 principle, also known as the Pareto principle.
I've lived my entire entrepreneurial career with the 80/20 rule as a guiding principle, and it's served me very well. As an entrepreneur, you simply can't put all of your time into everything, so putting 20% into any one thing and reaping 80% of the benefits is a very time-maximizing way to live.
But over the past 2 years at PointAbout, I've begun to feel like it's also limiting, but I haven't been able to put my finger on exactly how. Part of what I've been feeling I expressed in my Nov 2009 post on ABBA, which, as my co-founder Sean Shadmand puts it, is really just the thought that you have to be focused on what you're unfocused on (read the whole post if that doesn't make sense).
What's been gnawing on me is more than just a focus on preventing ABBA, though. I've been wondering what's truly possible with extreme focus.
This very insightful post on "Why the 80-20 Rule is Wrong" by David Wurtz just put me over the edge. I'm becoming a believer.