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In: Uncategorized25 Sep 2009
Often, it seems that quality and quantity are inversely proportional. You can spend all day doing lots of really quick things poorly, or you can spend all day doing one thing really well. Most people would tell you that quality is really important, so you should spend all day doing one thing really well.
Sometimes, I’m sure those people are right. If you’re assembling an airplane, please take as much time as you need. But increasingly, I find the focus on perfection to be an obstacle. Guy Kawasaki is famous for his, “Don’t worry, be crappy” quote. He doesn’t mean that you should show up to work late, give a half-hearted attempt at doing your job, take a 2-hour lunch, and then leave early. The point is just that you should focus on getting something done, and worry about perfecting things when it becomes necessary.
There are really a lot of reasons to focus on being “good enough”:
Fairly tangential to this, and yet the same general concept, is the Pareto principle (the 80/20 rule). What I find fascinating is the areas where it’s considerably more distorted. Spam is a good example, really, of something that’s more like the 99.9/0.1 rule. Both here and at work, spam has been a massive problem. But if you focus on solving the 99.9% of spammers, it turns out to be extremely simple. The ability to block registrations from an IP or range, the ability to quarantine posts containing certain keywords, and a throttle on what new users can do has practically eliminated spam as a concern. The people that would sign up and start spam-bombing every user on the site still try every now and again, but find that it doesn’t work.
We spent a while discussing some of these things. “If we block their IP, won’t they just use a proxy server? Should the limit be x or y messages, and over what time period?” At the end of the day, though, an unreasonably huge amount of spam can be stopped by a few really basic rules. In theory, spammers can just get a new IP, or can exploit a few things we identified as possible vulnerabilities. In reality, a handful of very basic features made spam volume drop orders of magnitude. Rather than spending all day working through a growing backlog of spammers, we click a few buttons every now and then to delete the few that bother. It’s somewhat like greylisting with SMTP: in theory, spammers have had years to work around it, and it should take 30 minutes of coding to make their spam software pass greylisting. In reality, something like 95% of people who get graylisted (at an inbox that gets 100% spam) either don’t try again at all, or they try again with totally different information and get rejected again.
I feel compelled to repeat that none of this is saying you should do anything but your best. You should always do your best, but often, doing your best means that you do a good enough (still acceptable) job on the things that you need to do that distract you from what actually creates value. If you slack off or cut too many corners, you’re not doing good enough. Thus doing good enough is necessarily good enough.