May 5, 2007

Good enough is the goal

Here is a wise quote by Christopher Peterson from his book A Primer in Positive Psychology : "... some skeptics still believe that positive psychologists miss the "obvious" point that life is tragic. We are born, and then we die. What happens in between is short, brutish, and cruel." A bit later he goes on: "I disagree but will not belabor the point except to note that tragedy admits to gradations. Even if everything sucks, some things suck more than others, an irrefutable fact given how people actually behave if not what they say. We prefer some outcomes rather than others, pursue some goals rather than others, and desire some emotional states rather than others. Whether we label these preferred circumstances "positive" or "less sucky" then becomes a matter of semantics." What I like about this quote is that it acknowledges the importance of fluctuation. Being positive does not require you to believe in perfect happiness or Utopia at all. All that is required is to see the fluctuation Peterson mentions and to focus on amplifying those moments and circumstances that were better (this idea is visualized here). My view is that the goal of the solution-focused approach is NOT to achieve an ideal state, but, instead, to achieve a situation that is good enough (this can be quite good though).


  1. Interesting quotes from Peterson. I have long struggled with "good enough" vs "the best" and found a book by Barry Schwartz called The Paradox of Choice, which was very useful to me. He articulated my concern - that aiming for "the best" was problematic, because you could never know if you really had "the best".
    This is where I have found solutions focused questioning to be helpful personally and professionally, so we can move from an abstract concept like "the best" to a practical personal example of what is "good enough" or "best enough" (for those managers who fear "good enough" is a cop out).

    Keep the great blogs coming Coert.

  2. Hi Sharon, Yes, the great thing about SF is that it is a moment-to-moment approach. You aim for what is good enough NOW. This gets you going more easily ('I can do THAT') than having to accomplish 'perfection' (there is no way I can do THAT). Once you are moving, and making some progress, you again think about what you want to achieve and again you aim for what's good enough from where you are standing now. this allows you to make progess step by step. This explains why I said good enough can turn out to become quite good. My experience is that managers who ask too much, too soon can unintendely paralize their people. Thanks for the book tip.
    PS have you seen the post 'Does it always have to be great?'. It is more or less about the same topic

  3. I've also found the Barry Schwartz book helpful, though I originally came across this in a graduation address he gave at Swarthmore. If you google schwartz + swarthmore you will be able to access a pdf file on this.

    But another book, Coert, that has brought home to me the "perfect is the enemy of good" is "Improv Wisdom" by Patricia Ryan Madson. You will see from the sub-title "Don't prepare, just show up" that this fits in with your approach.

    I wrote about her ideas on my coaching blog a while back and was chuffed when she commented on the post. But again, googling can get you the gist.

    [As you can see, I am gradually working my way back through your archive.]

  4. Thanks for the tips Em. You say you have a coaching blog? Where can I find it?

  5. Yes. It's a small and shamefully neglected blog, Coert.

    But you can find it at


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