Analytical 13: Perfect

7 April, 2017


Is it possible to create something perfect with an unchallengeable criteria, or are you just wasting your time?

Transcript available
[Music] Everything can be improved, iterated and refined, and if you don't think that's true, maybe you haven't analysed it enough. Calculated choices carefully considered. Absolutely analytical. Analytical is part of the Engineered Network. To support our shows, including this one, head over to our Patreon page, page and for other great shows visit today. Perfect is the enemy of good. So said Voltaire. I mentioned it briefly in episode three and there's a bit more to say about that because the problem that I have with perfect is that perfect isn't real. It's an invention of our minds, the human mind. We perceive things as at a state of perfection, as actually being attainable, when the reality is that it is never attainable. But why? I've thought about this a lot over the years, and many have said that mathematics is the only perfect science or perfect discipline. The reason for that is it's sort of rooted in the number one. Well, at least the concept is anyway. So if you're not familiar with it, it's a fascinating idea. So let's just explore that for a minute. There's actually no such thing as one of anything. I mean, you could say, well, from a derivative point of view, there has to be one of something if you break it down to the lowest possible level. But in a measurable sense, let's think about hydrogen. Just, you know, to start somewhere and give you an example. So you might consider that there's one atom of hydrogen, let's say, just one. But the problem is that that atom could actually be one of three different isotopes. It could be hydrogen, deuterium or tritium. So when we measure one mole of hydrogen, it's actually a combination of different quantities of each of those individual isotopes and that gives us an average atomic mass. Hence, everything in the real world in a measurable way isn't possibly one of anything. It's a combination of the three different isotopes because that's just what you'll find in the distribution when you take sample from the real world. So in terms of real world measurements. So 1+1 may equal 2 in mathematics, but in the real world it's really just an approximation and it's a measurable approximation because perfection is all about relative measurement. So perfection is the same thing. Perfection really, it's an approximation of reality. And when each person looks at something and they they ignore the imperfections, they'll usually ignore different imperfections to the next person. So when each person looks at something and ignores certain imperfections, they'll usually ignore different specific imperfections to the next person who would ignore a different set of imperfections. And that, just to make it harder. But I mean, that's just reality. And the reality is that's human nature. So, when I look at a statue, I may say, "Oh, that's beautiful, but... Oh, it's missing a finger." Next person comes along and say, "Oh, that's beautiful, but it's got a slight discoloration on the left-hand side. That's disconcerting." But then again, each of those people could look at it and say, "On balance, that is perfect. That is a perfect sculpture, a perfect painting, is a perfect bridge, it's a perfect whatever." But the imperfection is still there, whether they choose to acknowledge it or not is actually what creates the debate. So why on earth does anyone think that you can actually attain perfection? Anyway, so it all comes down to the fact that ultimately perfection is in the eye of the beholder and it looks different to different people and it's completely immeasurable for that reason. There is no yardstick, nothing. You can develop a set of criteria, But your criteria is biased and your criteria is a restriction of reality. Because you say, well, from the following perspectives, it is perfect. But those cannot ever be a complete list because there are always going to be criteria that you don't include. And you could say, well, they're not relevant. And I suppose that's the point, because who is the judge of what is relevant? So if I'm trying to create something, it doesn't matter what it is, it's actually possible to make something that's actually truly perfect for me. But no one else in the world may see that in their eyes or to their eyes, I should say. They won't see that as being perfect at all, and they will pick up those imperfections. You can hold up a list of, well, here's the criteria I'm using to determine its level of perfection. That's great. But the truth is, to you, it's perfect. But to them, they can disagree with your criteria and say, "Well, no, it's not." So if you want to create something, anything that's widely accepted as being good or great, you have no option but to ensure that you don't try to make it perfect for you. Now, whether that's what Voltaire was getting at or not, I don't really know. But I think the point's fascinating, and it's fascinating because, well, if you are going to create something and you recognise the fact that perfection is not attainable or perfection to your eyes is all you can ever attain and no one else will ever see it as perfect. How do you actually determine what good looks like? And I suppose the majority has to rule. It has to, whatever you create, has to either solve a problem or take something and that already solves a problem and make it more generally accessible. So, it's okay to make it good, or maybe even to make it great. But please, please, please don't ruin it by trying to make it perfect. It's interesting because people have said to me in the past, "I didn't want to show you this thing until it was perfect." And whilst there is a dimension of that that is just grammatical, sure, that's just an expression. But there are people that actually believe that. and they get stuck in this endless cycle of reiteration, of perfectionist-driven design iteration. The end result is not net positive. The end result is hours burned for no significant improvement. If there is an improvement, only they would see it. The vast majority of the world just sees a waste of time and in some cases money. And it's interesting because different people will appreciate it. And the one metric, if you're creating something, is how widely used it is or how widely liked and used it is. And you're obsessing about the shade of color of the background of the screen, let's say if it's an application, or how smooth the corner is of the chair you're making or whatever it might be, the vast majority of people are just going to sit in the chair and say it's a comfortable chair because that's their criteria. It doesn't matter how well-rounded the arm of the chair is. If they can actually do calculations in a spreadsheet, they don't care if it's the right shade of gray in the background or the right shade of blue because I can do calculations in it and that's my criteria. And yet to one person, the developer, they agonized over it for so long. So I suppose to summarise, perfection really is somewhat of a delusion. It isn't real. It's in the eye of the beholder, and that's okay. But if you're trying to create something for more than just yourself, you need to get over that and realise that perfection is never something that you can ever create for everybody. It will never happen and it can not happen. So, don't ruin something and how great it could be by obsessing over the finest details that add no appreciable value to anybody else because that drive for perfection can take something that could be great and just ruin it and no one would get benefit because you would never deliver. So, don't ruin how great it could be. Just get it done. Deliver it. Make something good. Make something great. Got it? Perfect. If you're enjoying Analytical and you want to support the show, you can, like some of our backers, Ivan, Daniel Dudley and Chris Stone. They and many others are patrons of the show via Patreon, and you can find it at or one word. So, if you'd like to contribute something, anything at all, it's all very much appreciated. Except nothing. Question everything. It's always a good time to analyze something. I'm John Chidjie. Thanks for listening. (upbeat music) (music)
Duration 10 minutes and 7 seconds Direct Download

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John Chidgey

John Chidgey

John is an Electrical, Instrumentation and Control Systems Engineer, software developer, podcaster, vocal actor and runs TechDistortion and the Engineered Network. John is a Chartered Professional Engineer in both Electrical Engineering and Information, Telecommunications and Electronics Engineering (ITEE) and a semi-regular conference speaker.

John has produced and appeared on many podcasts including Pragmatic and Causality and is available for hire for Vocal Acting or advertising. He has experience and interest in HMI Design, Alarm Management, Cyber-security and Root Cause Analysis.

You can find him on the Fediverse and on Twitter.