What’s Better Than “Perfect”?

IF GROWING THIS BLOG were modeled on “Jack and the Beanstalk,” we are at the point of the story where I have traded the family cow for three little beans. I have confidence in the growth potential of those three little beans, but the current stage feels a bit awkward.

Rather than hold out for polished perfection, though, we’re committed to publish and learn as we go.

I once earned 15 seconds of fame (appearing on a tote bag, in a quote-a-day calendar, at least one graduation speech, and a flurry of online quotes lists) when my advice to procrastinators went viral. ‘Done’ is better than ‘perfect.’

I hope I don’t have to eat those words.

–Anne Mollegen Smith, Founding Editor 

UPDATE: Ever-alert Brooklyn Artisan contributor Bruce A. Campbell sent me a link to a new piece from Fast Company called: The Truth About Being “Done” Versus Being “Perfect” What do they mean, the truth? Is this the beginning of the hottest controversy in an inkpot since Reinhold Niebuhr’s authorship of “The Serenity Prayer” was challenged?

Here is the backstory:  how I came to proclaim this long ago (decades before Facebook existed), and how I came to be known for it. The latter may be useful to you.

First: Often what makes an aphorism work is not the newness of the idea, but the particular formulation of it. “What is so rare as a day in June? Then, if ever, come perfect days.” Those are the opening lines of a James Russell Lowell poem that’s probably better known than he is. Compare that to the same content put this way: “June has unusually nice weather, don’t you think? Pretty much as good as it gets.”

Next: I first said this in an editorial context. I was managing editor of Redbook magazine (1978-81). As m.e. I managed copy flow, which always bunched at the last production minute and swamped the copy department. At the time, the award-winning magazine had the best-educated mass women’s magazine audience ever. Typos and dumb-o’s were frowned upon. Stress on the copyeditors was immense; probably their health and certainly their dispositions suffered from it. I had to get the high-achieving editors to Let Go of Their Stuff on schedule. I wrote a memo making a little joke: Nothing’s better than perfect, of course – except at a certain point in producing an issue when “done” is better than “perfect.” In short form, I used it often.

Most important: If you’re going to say something sorta’ smart and get quoted for it, it helps to say it in front of wordsmiths and scribes. The Redbook staff soon had “done is better than perfect” coming out of their ears, of course, and so did writers I worked with later at other publications.

I said it to Jane O’Reilly (author of The Girl I Left Behind and  co-founder of the Getting It Gazette in 1992) when trying to extract a piece from her. At times plagued by writer’s block, she found it helpful. When speaking to the Women’s Media Group, she cited this. Editor/writer Betsy Wade of the New York Times, a former copy editor, was struck by it. She was on the board of JAWS (Journalism and Women Symposium). JAWS produced a tote bag for their annual conference. Soon, I found myself in the best company imaginable: side-by-side on a tote bag with, oh, Frederick Douglas, and Emma Goldman, and…and….

I said it some more – a lot more, actually – during the early days of HER NEW YORK, a daily-turned-weekly tabloid for women started by the later-jailed Steven Hoffenberg. I was hired as consultant/executive editor for six weeks to get it launched. Whether it was a good idea or not, it was – let’s say, financially under-powered. But we got the thing in print and onto newsstands on the designated day! A writer on that staff, Tonice Sgrignoli, put together a women’s quote-a-day calendar a few years later, and OMG, there I was, Ms. February 9th!.

And when the World Wide Web was young, there I was, among my betters again on lots of different quotes lists. My favorite quote spot is where I come just after Thomas Edison and William Shakespeare in the “Mantras of Famous People” list. Edison says, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” And Will? “To thine own self be true.”  Now, that I wish I had said.         ––AMS

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