The enemy of the good

For years, I’ve heard and seen the quotation “The perfect is the enemy of the good.”

But this morning, I read a blog post by Lauren Bacon on imposter syndrome. (Which I may be suffering from if I tell you to stop reading this and go read that. But it’s a superb piece of writing and contains more insight than most entire self-help books. So stop reading this and go read that.)

And in that post, she quotes Voltaire:

“The best is the enemy of the good.” –Voltaire

Turns out that really is the quotation: the best, not the perfect. Here’s the original French:

Dans ses écrits, un sage Italien
Dit que le mieux est l’ennemi du bien.

Now, the way people usually quote Voltaire is still useful. It captures the law of diminishing returns, and suggests that, hey, sooner or later you have to just ship the damn thing, press “Publish” or make the site live, even if it doesn’t render perfectly in Internet Explorer 3.

But discovering what Voltaire really said kind of blew my mind — and speaks to something that Lauren gets at in many of her other posts and her coaching work. It’s our tendency to compare ourselves to others, especially those who excel in their field.

For the longest time, I let the fact that there are other, (much) better cartoonists out there keep me from cartooning. Then from showing anyone my cartoons. Then from posting them.

And even now, after I’ve had my cartoons appear in dozens of books, magazines and websites, I’m still haunted by the idea that there are better cartoonists out there, more worthy of people’s time and attention.

Not that this was what Voltaire was getting at. He was encouraging people to appreciate what they have, in a grass-is-always-greener kind of way. (That’s my read, anyway. YMMV.)

But part of appreciating what you have is appreciating what you can do on its own terms, without needing to compare it to what others can do. Yes, there are other cartoonists, writers, speakers, speechwriters, painters, and experts out there. But you’re the one who showed up here and now, and attendance, it turns out, is marked very highly.

Besides, we’d be a mighty poor civilization if only those who thought they were the best felt worthy of expressing themselves. (We’d also be dominated by pathological egomaniacs.)

The best doesn’t have to be the enemy of the good. It can be a spur, a teacher, an inspiration. It can even teach us that “better” and “best” sometimes aren’t very useful terms in fields marked by complexity, diversity and subjective experience.

I believe crash reports should be worth reading (2)

There once was a user named Rob / who piled tabs up like a slob / His actions were rash / and Firefox crashed / please spare him a tear or a sob.

There once was a user named Rob / who piled tabs up like a slob / His actions were rash / and Firefox crashed / please spare him a tear or a sob.

I’ve decided that people who create great software — especially great open-source software, like Mozilla’s Firefox — deserve a break. And so I’ve made this decision: every time I manage to crash Firefox, I’ll try to at least make the crash report a decent read. Here’s the first in this series.

TOS 2X9 “The Apple”



I decided to watch and review “The Apple” after it was mentioned as an episode chock-full of red shirt deaths on a super-fun episode of All Things Trek featuring the creators of The Red Shirt Diaries. 

“The Apple” does not have a complicated plot, so I won’t spend a lot of time on that. Basically:

  1. Away team beams down to Eden-esque planet, and makes sure you know how Eden-esque it is. Chekov is excited to spend time with his gf, Yeoman Martha Landon
  2. Four redshirts die after being attacked by trick flowers and comically exploding rocks.
  3. Away team meets “primitive” people festooned in plastic but non-attacking flowers and redface makeup, finds they are worshipping papier mache high school art project monster named Vaal
  4. Away team finds Vaal is a computer that is keeping the people on the planet immortal but also forbidding them from love/sex
  5. Away team + Enterprise kill Vaal because Kirk thinks people should not live in ignorance, despite Spock’s concerns about the Prime Directive
  6. Kirk and McCoy joke that Spock kinda looks like Satan.
  7. The End


Some parts of “The Apple” work better than others. Let’s start with the others.

Read More

Awesome: “Really? I mean, as a union activist, I’m all for giving people the right to refuse unsafe work, but it doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense in Starfleet.”

What makes a speech’s call to action powerful? A theory of change.

Inspiring speeches don’t just persuade people of a point of view; they urge the audience to action, and show them how that action will produce meaningful progress toward a better world.

Here’s an example. After I tweeted this column by the Vancouver Sun’s Daphne Bramham (“We need citizens, not just taxpayers and bookkeepers“), Ryan Merkley pointed me to this 2011 TEDx talk by former Toronto mayor David Miller.

Miller makes a compelling case for reclaiming the language of “citizen” over “taxpayer”, and he could have ended there — as a lot of TEDx talks do.

But then he asks his audience to do something: to challenge every media reference to “taxpayers” with a letter or email. He sets out a theory of change: that once enough people do that, reporters and commentators — and eventually politicians — will begin changing their language as well. And that, in turn, will help to shift the political discussion so that it focuses less on keeping taxes low, and more on the common good.

He isn’t asking his audience to take to the streets, or fundamentally alter their lives. But he isn’t just asking them to take a purely symbolic step, either. By seamlessly connecting his call to action to his argument, through a clear and coherent theory of change, Miller leaves his audience inspired and ready to do something they believe will improve their community.

Which is a pretty big part of citizenship.

Filed under: Speechwriting Tagged: call to action, Daphne Bramham, david miller, Ryan Merkley, tedx, topoli, toronto

Follower-bombing as a political prank

This morning brought the news that municipal party Vision Vancouver‘s Twitter following (along with Mayor Gregor Robertson‘s) had ballooned overnight, and that most of those followers were fake. What should have been a non-story wasn’t, because politics and municipal election in November.

I weighed in, and I hope helped to clear this up a little. Here are my comments, collected in one handy bundle.

It wasn’t that long ago that news media and political opponents alike would run breathless stories about how some pol’s website was just four clicks away from pornography! Fortunately, something like that wouldn’t make headlines these days, because we’re a lot smarter about how the Internet works.

Which means there may be one bright side to this. Today the #vanpoli world got a crash course in the exciting world of fake followers. Maybe it’ll leave us all a lot less prone to using follower counts as any metric of social media influence or success.

I believe crash reports should be worth reading

My crash report to Mozilla (includes text below)

I was switching to a stalled tab when Firefox quit — but I don’t know if that was the cause. Maybe it’s me. You put so many of your dreams on hold when you become an adult, and every choice you make seems to slaughter a million other possibilities. Click this, and not that; study this, and not that; work at this, and not that. Opportunity cost is the profound, unavoidable tragedy of the human condition; sensing that, perhaps Firefox chose to take some of those choices off my menu, freeing me t

There’s a character limit. Pity — I think I was on the brink of a revelation there.