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If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly (chesterton.org)
325 points by dang on Mar 10, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 103 comments

Is it just me, or have some of the comments here missed the point of this entirely? This isn't about MVP or Lean Product Dev.

It's about doing the things that are "worth doing". And about doing them yourself, instead of outsourcing them to someone else. Take responsibility for doing the things that are difficult but worth doing.

Things that people outsource:

Gym - people outsource their Gym attendance to "the experts", Personal Trainers.

Their health - to "the professionals", be those Doctors, vitamin salesmen, or chiropractors.

Music - to professional musicians.

>Gym - people outsource their Gym attendance to "the experts", Personal Trainers.

Um, what? Your personal trainer doesn't go to the gym in your stead, they advise on how best to use your time there.

I think he meant "you shouldn't skip gym just because you don't have a trainer. Gym is worth doing, so it's even worth doing badly (without a trainer)"

I agree with this idea but if you work out badly enough you can seriously injure yourself.

You're probably over analyzing this. I don't need someone to tell me how to run if I want to go for a run, regardless of my experience level. But sure, having a personal trainer is important for certain types of workouts.

I agree for a one-off.

But plenty of people have permanently damaged their knees by consistently running without getting advice on how best to do it.

You don't need a personal trainer for that. But asking someone "to tell me how to run" ain't a bad idea, even if it's a question on a running board on the Internet.

"But plenty of people have permanently damaged their knees by consistently running without getting advice on how best to do it."

The people who read running boards all the time roll their eyes at stuff like this. Saying that running will hurt your knees is the running equivalent of "The GPL will infect your codebase." It's not true, but it sounds scary.

Usually, if you ask runners how to run, they will say something like, "It's not that complicated. Run more miles, slowly."

For example: https://www.reddit.com/r/running/comments/wi8zq/want_an_easy...

Interesting - thanks!

OTOH, "Runner's Knee" does seem to be a serious condition affecting a lot of people (much like "Fencer's Knee", which I'm more familiar with). From the same subreddit:

https://www.reddit.com/r/running/comments/3hx43k/how_i_cured... https://www.reddit.com/r/running/comments/26jaax/3_years_ago... https://www.reddit.com/r/running/comments/1gdw5l/can_i_fix_m...

And a number of people, when discussing the problem, reference bad technique as a causative factor.

However, you're absolutely right that it seems there's little evidence for permanent damage. I found this thread particularly interesting:


If you work out with the vast majority of badly trained, non-scientific, fad-chasing trainers, you can seriously injure yourself too.

You can injure yourself even with a good trainer.

I trained with one on the Starting Strength lifts for 4 months. Made crazy gains, but I ended up stopping after an injury. I was not listening to my body the way I would have if I hadn't had the trainer.

I'm starting Crossfit now, and my number one goal is zero injuries. I like that it's more of a class format than it is a one on one training format. I can go at my own pace.

Crossfit is a dangerous joke because they prioritize massive sets over safe and correct form.


I used to think the same way. But gyms vary widely in quality and culture. And you can go at your own pace, nobody is going to make you do more when you're ready to stop.

I personally would prefer to just lift. But unless you're pretty lucky, or are willing to invest the time and expense, you won't have access to a gym with decent equipment. Since convenience is a huge factor in lifestyle choices like working out, you need to choose amongst the activities that are close to you. Once I graduated from cardio at Planet Fitness, the only place to go really is Crossfit.

Allow me to please add another dimension to this discussion. First a couple of facts, South Africa is in top five set of unequal societies in the world (the rich are really rich, the poor very poor). Less than 1% can afford personal trainers. Obesity related illnesses now take up bulk of health budget. Not to discount the value of personal trainers but in certain countries/scenarios it is just best to get on with exercising.

That is also due to South African culture, and not necessarily just wealth inequality.

People have been working out without "professional trainers" for millennia. Yes, you can be injured occasionally (but you also can with a trainer), but if you don't overdo it you'll be fine.

I totally get your point and I agree. I think fundamental point is not to use such things as excuses not to do things at all.

In this case it's more about where you get the knowledge. To parallel the motherhood example FTA:

> She does what she does not because she is going to be paid for her services and not because she is the most highly skilled, but because she wants to do it. And she does “the things worth doing,” which are the things closest and most sacred to all of humanity – nurturing a baby, teaching a child the first things, and, in fact, all things.

You're not doing the exercises that are being chosen by the expert who is telling you what to do because you're paying them, you're doing the exercises you want to do purely out of self-interest.

Perhaps this is more about surrendering responsibility/ownership to others.

I have seen many people give that up upon getting a trainer. Suddenly they only exercise at trainer appointments.

But the fact that having a personal trainer improves things a lot. For example having a psychologist. She doesn't do anything, she just makes comments.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys also don't "do anything" except just "make comments". For that matter, neither do presidents or professors.

I suppose the real question is then "How do we decide what is 'worth doing' ourselves?"

I think it's fair to say that abolishing all division of labor doesn't make much sense. So what makes some activities different such that they should not be subject to division of labor? Outsourcing work to personal trainers, doctors, and musicians seems like a very good idea to me.

Let's say you got a date with a girl. Instead of a date you could have been programming making $100 per hour instead. The date costs you money. Would you outsource the date to your friend who will go in your stead with the girl, so you can be more productive?

No way, the date is worth going in and of itself.

Same logic with raising children.

You're going to to look back on the experience with nothing but fondness. The experience of raising your child was valuable in and of itself.

Life is not about maximising productivity, you know.

I don't think your example of dating is a very good one. You're changing the functional nature of the date by having someone else go on it. That's like saying you can't outsource hair-cutting to a barber because it would be equivalent of telling your friend to go cut his hair for you. Clearly you need to be participatory in some degree for the activity to retain it's functionality, but that doesn't mean you can't outsource the hard parts to someone else and have everyone be better off. (Maybe it's unrealistic, but personally I think we do need a bit more outsourcing in dating. We don't need to have everyone muddle through it by themselves, we can have skilled people help educate and guide us in how to find healthy meaningful relationships.)

And honestly, I simply can't help disagreeing with the idea that everyone should raise children themselves, just because we will "look back on it with fondness". That seems to me to be the equivalent of saying (pardon the awful analogy) that people should kidnap women off the street and rape them because they find the experience "pleasurable". The way I see it is that by raising a child you are forcing your will upon them, they did not ask or consent to it and have no say in how it is done. And yet, child raising must be done somehow, and therefore you have a serious responsibility to try to ensure that it is done as well as it possibly can. You have no right to force poor parenting onto a child simply because you had a "nice experience".

I realize my views on this may be a bit unusual, but I think it's worth considering.

Do you have kids? I would hardly say every parent I know looks back on it with "nothing but fondness". Some would even say that on balance, they would have rather not had children at all.

I should have rephrased it to include only people who enjoy raising children. For those people, it's OK not to be maximally productive. It's ok to not want to outsource raising a child by strangers.

I think there's two branches:

1) Things you do because you love doing them. Like spending time with your kids - it's not about doing it as-best-as-is-possible, it's just about doing it because you love doing it. It's worth doing for you, so you don't have to worry about how well you do it.

2) Things that are outcome-based. When it doesn't matter if you're the right person for the job because you're the ONLY person for the job and the job needs doing.

>I suppose the real question is then "How do we decide what is 'worth doing' ourselves?"

Well that's the thing, Chesterton gives advice on that in the quote:

Is it worth doing even if you're doing it poorly? Then it's 'worth doing'. Is it only worth doing if you're doing it at a high/professional/competitive level? Then it's not 'worth doing'.

Of course as pointed out in every third comment, take Chesterton with a grain of salt. Chesterton never said anything that he didn't later contradict, and assert that contradicting himself was in fact proof of the ultimate correctness of both statements.

> "How do we decide what is 'worth doing' ourselves?"

Another way to phrase this: "How do we live a good life?" People have been asking this for thousands of years. It's one of (or perhaps the?) central question of humanity.

As a poster points out below, as originally written by Chesterton, this is "about" opposing the education of women in order that they might remain angelically primitive and unspoilt in their leisure activities.

It is absolutely not about taking things like the gym seriously. Chesterton would argue for physical leisure (for men), but only in a fundamentally amateur fashion. Cricket on the village green, "jumpers for goalposts" football, that kind of thing. It's very English (upper class) and not at all Californian.

(Chesterton was a tremendous writer, one of the greats of the English language, but should not be taken as a guide to living one's life in the present day without a pinch of salt)

While this isn't about MVPs or programming, this is Hacker News, so it's destined to be interpreted in that light once once posted here. I sympathize with your overall point, but reinterpretation contributes to timelessness.

> reinterpretation contributes to timelessness

I really enjoy that turn of phrase

In the United States, the recent legal trend toward strict originalism in interpreting the Constitution has created a widening disconnect between what was written in the late 18th and early 19th centuries and what the US needs today.

This dogmatic refusal to reinterpret the Second Amendment, in particular, has created a profoundly bizarre (to this Canadian) situation in which the US has a rate of gun death - not just murder, but also suicide and accidental shooting - that has no comparison anywhere else in the developed world.

In respect to outsourcing our health to doctors, that is for very good reasons. People are shown to be completely deficient when trying to look out for themselves in this regard.

A doctor can't keep you out of dangerous situations that are hazardous to your health. They can't exercise or watch your weight or quit smoking or take your medicine for you. They aren't there to notice the first symptoms of a disease. And you'll get worse results if you don't describe your symptoms accurately.

Of course they'll still do the best they can for people who don't do any of these things, but people who take care of themselves (or have other people - amateurs - to advocate for them) are going to get better use out of the medical system.

People are shown to be completely deficient when trying to look out for themselves in this regard.

jacobr1 is completely right thought, YOU have to take ownership of your health situation. No one can do that for you. Your doctor has hundreds of patients to think about, and only so much cognitive energy available to burn. How much time per month does he/she spend thinking about you specifically? And note that your GP/PCP is likely not up to date on all of the cutting edge research coming down the pike. I'm sure they take their continuing education credits as required by the AMA or whatever, and some probably read a few journal articles and what-not, especially in an area of particular interest. But if you have some uncommon condition, do you think your doctor is on pubmed all day researching every study published on your condition, looking for that one extra bit of knowledge that might make a huge difference. Nah, they're playing golf. Or playing with their kids. Or any of the myriad of things normal people do when they aren't working.

And what if you have, FSM forbid, two (or more) doctors. Maybe you have a GP and a cardiologist or an endocrinologist you see. Who's responsible for noticing and directing attention to conflicting instructions between the two? Who's responsible for making sure each knows about all the drugs you're prescribed by the other? Etc? Yeah, you are.

Of course lay people shouldn't try to be their own doctor, but saying that you have to take responsibility for your health care is totally accurate.

You still need to take overall ownership. Get second opinions. Do some research on use that not as the basis of making some sort of self diagnoses, but as to have a frank discourse with your doctor on your condition. Prevent the need for acute treatments by taking preventative measures that have broad scientific consensus (good diet, exercise, safety equipment, etc...). Do you have a living will and advance directives? Check to see if generic prescriptions would save you money. Proactively ask about different drug formulation if you anticipate or identify side-effects. Get justification for suggested remedies. Ensure your records are transferred or up to date when changing providers. Proactively inform your doctor of family history or environmental conditions regardless of any relevancy you expect - let them make the call but give them all the data. Research providers and providers networks, not just for expertise, which is really hard to judge, but for things like: If I call on the weekend who picks up? Your GP on her mobile? Whoever is on-call? A nurse? A referral service from the local hospital? It is wise to outsource expertise you don't have, but not management of that expertise if you can avoid it.

For an alternative view, read Nassim Nicholas Taleb's "Antifragile" where he writes about iatrogenics.

Yes, absolutely. HN has a natural tendency to make everything about startups. Where this does overlap is the passage about child-rearing which posits that amateurs are more suited than professionals due to the breadth of skills necessary. This correlates nicely with startups, it seems, where being able to do a lot of things "badly" is more important than doing a few things "well." Foxes vs. hedgehogs.

I should have read the comments first. That's the article in understandable.

imo stuff like gardening, landscaping, training a pet also falls under this category!

Everyone else is just overanalyzing everything :)

For a bit more context, Chesterton is complaining about how the education system (1910) blindly processes girls as if they were facial-hair-impaired boys, and he digresses a bit into discussing creative/artistic play.

Here, I'll try to edit/snip/boil it down into something easier to read. Money-quote is at the very end. (Original text at http://www.online-literature.com/chesterton/wrong-with-the-w... )


All the educational reformers did was to ask what was being done to boys and then go and do it to girls [...] "Would you go back to the elegant early Victorian female, with ringlets and smelling-bottle, doing a little in water colors, dabbling a little in Italian, playing a little on the harp, writing in vulgar albums and painting on senseless screens? Do you prefer that?" To which I answer, "Emphatically, yes." [...]

There was a time when you and I and all of us were all very close to God; so that even now the color of a pebble (or a paint), the smell of a flower (or a firework), comes to our hearts with a kind of authority and certainty; as if they were fragments of a muddled message, or features of a forgotten face.

To pour that fiery simplicity upon the whole of life is the only real aim of education; [...] To smatter the tongues of men and angels, to dabble in the dreadful sciences, to juggle with pillars and pyramids and toss up the planets like balls, this is that inner audacity and indifference which the human soul, like a conjurer catching oranges, must keep up forever.

This is that insanely frivolous thing we call sanity. And the elegant female, drooping her ringlets over her water-colors, knew it and acted on it. She was juggling with frantic and flaming suns. She was maintaining the bold equilibrium of inferiorities which is the most mysterious of superiorities and perhaps the most unattainable. She was maintaining the prime truth of woman, the universal mother: that if a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.

More quotes from the same piece: "The wife is like the fire, or to put things in their proper proportion, the fire is like the wife. Like the fire, the woman is expected to cook: not to excel in cooking, but to cook; to cook better than her husband who is earning the coke by lecturing on botany or breaking stones. Like the fire, the woman is expected to tell tales to the children, not original and artistic tales, but tales--better tales than would probably be told by a first-class cook. Like the fire, the woman is expected to illuminate and ventilate, not by the most startling revelations or the wildest winds of thought, but better than a man can do it after breaking stones or lecturing. But she cannot be expected to endure anything like this universal duty if she is also to endure the direct cruelty of competitive or bureaucratic toil. Woman must be a cook, but not a competitive cook; a school mistress, but not a competitive schoolmistress; a house-decorator but not a competitive house-decorator; a dressmaker, but not a competitive dressmaker. She should have not one trade but twenty hobbies; she, unlike the man, may develop all her second bests."

Thank God I don't have to maintain the bold equilibrium of inferiorities and develop my second bests. Instead I get to do some math -- I am so blessed, although Chesterton would not agree!

I'm glad society no longer expects me to loaf about with a smelling-bottle dabbling in Italian. The elegant female can kiss my ass. I'd rather be ferociously competent.

I read it less as "leave women to their vices," and more as "leave people to their vices," but maybe I'm giving credit where it isn't due.

>I'd rather be ferociously competent.

And instead of improving the men too, we all regress to competitive monkeys...

This comes off incredibly badly to a modern audience because it's Chesterton at his most Catholic conservative. Chesterton can only properly be understood when we realise that he was thinking of life-as-religious-observance; the prime directive of life to bear witness to God.

Whereas the education of women and all the things he decries are fundamentally pragmatic and directed towards enabling women to do things in the here-and-now. We promote education because it enables autonomy, and promote work (at equal pay rates) for women for the same reason. These things have a fundamentally temporal reward. Whereas the old inequality ("bold equilibrium of inferiorities") was always justified with the promise of redemption in heaven.

I've always preferred Douglas Adams' version: Some things you should care enough about to do badly.

He also wrote it as: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy... does at least make the reassuring claim, that where it is inaccurate it is at least definitively inaccurate.

I've paraphrased it as if I'm going to be wrong, I shall strive to be DEFINITIVELY wrong which has proven very helpful advice.

I find myself thinking of the different between:

"Look at this cool code-trick I found... Maybe it's good?"

"Look at this cool code-trick I found... Warning: Despite the cool part, it actually contains several subtle and horrifying flaws and no sane person should ever trust it in production."

Do you have a source for that?

EDIT. Perhaps it's really Terry Pratchett?

From Carpet People:

> If he concentrated, he could just hear Pismire playing the fluteharp; it was easy to tell, even with all the other instruments in the Deftmenes' own band, by the way the notes went all over the place without ever hitting the tune. Pismire always said there were some things you should care about enough to do badly.

Source: http://www.chrisjoneswriting.com/carpet-people.html

Readability, there it is.

I guess this is the cycle:

1) "Some things you should care enough about to do badly." - Start as a hobby

2) “If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.” - You work on it some more but you are still mediocre at it

3) "If it is worth doing, it is worth overdoing." - You work at it, again and again and you have a ton of iterations

But you get tired and you question what you are working on; #4,#5,#6 creeps in your head

4) "If a thing is not worth doing at all, it's not worth doing well."

5) "If doing something isn't worth the effort, doing it well won't fix that."

6) "There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all."

I see 4,5,6 a lot in "features". Techs spend too much time on features that no one really cares about. Its the same for crappy movies.. lots of talented people work on really crappy work.. 99% of the time its not their own passion project. In todays, work-world, we are forced to do great work on really vapid stuff.

I see 1,2,3 in really passionate people and what the world gets are iterations, variety and meaningful work. *the world is better for it - scientist, entrepreneurs and artist do this. Many variations and angles of an idea. A lot of times, the body of work becomes meaningful.

Years after encountering this in Chesterton, I read The Soul of a New Machine, and found Tom West quoted as saying "Not everything worth doing is worth doing well." I don't know whether he had read Chesterton or whether he simply made an obvious additional turn on a turn of phrase.

wow-- thank you for this tidbit.. just quickly read the wiki on it.. and now Im gonna get on and read it. :D

You're welcome. When you read it, consider that the team originally wanted to build a machine with a VAX-like instruction set, and that those fell out of fashion soon after. I did used to know Eclipse assembler, and it had its peculiarities--no register-relative byte addressing, as I recall.

If we stick in the word "even", it's clearer: worth doing even badly.

If something is worth doing, it may be worth doing even badly, rather than insisting it must be done well, resulting in paralyzing inaction.

Upon consideration, I think maybe it's clearer in the inverse:

If you have to worry about how well you do it, it's not worth it for you to do.

I think this applies equally well to things doing the things you love doing - raising kids, making art - as it does to clearing blockers and doing-things-what-need-doing.

Note that the "have to" is a key part - most people will and/or should actually worry about how well they do - the difference is whether you're required to worry.

This definitely doesn't apply to all situations - it missed the entire field of "things you're good at" - but I found it decently insightful for my personal life.

An inspiration for amateurs everywhere. It is a useful idea at the start. But at some point, you will acquire an itch to to hone your skills. By then, you probably don't need to worry about doing badly.

P.S. I love this guy's wit. I came into his works when I researched Catholicism and because of some references from Neil Gaiman. But I would have never thought that this writer would ever be in HN.

> An inspiration for amateurs everywhere. It is a useful idea at the start. But at some point, you will acquire an itch to to hone your skills. By then, you probably don't need to worry about doing badly.

Actually, I think it's even better advice someone who is already skilled at something. It's easy to forget that being able to do something well doesn't make that thing worthwhile. Right now I feel this way about my profession -- I need to choose between doing something I think makes the world a worse place "well" to pay the bills versus trying to redirect my skill-set towards something more "worthwhile", but potentially failing.

Obviously there are many factors to consider but I think the main point of the quote is to emphasize the nature of "worth" transcends ability, not just "don't be afraid to try new things!"

re: P.S. And yes, "Good Omens" is an awesome book.

I got stuck starting a company with my friend and wasted months coding everything to absolute perfection with the latest bleeding edge tech when we could have coded it in a week, then we missed out chance because a huge competitor swept in with lots of VC money and ate the market. So it goes.

I have no idea what you did, but the situation is so common, I'll wade in anyway :-) It may or may not apply to your situation.

When you start a new venture, you need to be very clear on what your exit strategy is: a viable business or a "disruptive technology" that you can sell. I will discuss the second one first because it is easier.

If you are building a "disruptive technology", the goal is eyeballs. You are trying to get someone to see what you are doing and make them think, "OMG, if we let these people go they are going to put us out of business". In reality, you are building a demo. It doesn't matter whether or not you get the details right. You can get many, many things wrong and it won't make a difference. Your goal is to be impressive and to have the potential to get it all right before anyone else can.

If you are trying to build a viable business, then ideally you want revenue. It is very important that you get the details exactly right, but at the same time you need to get revenue as soon as humanly possible. The way to achieve these seemingly opposing ends is to keep your scope as stupidly small as possible. Write something tiny and details oriented that will get revenue as soon as possible. Grow in very, very tiny increments, making sure to get the details right as much as you can. Make sure your revenue grows proportionately.

The common mistake is that startups often don't think about their endgame and their strategy realistically. So they say, "We'll build a business and disrupt the industry". This is highly unlikely to be successful because the disruption requires high risk manoeuvres where if you pay attention to detail you will be forever at your keyboard and never deliver. But building a business requires low risk iteration with attention to detail, so if you throw in "and nobody has ever done this before" then you will never get your first iteration out the door (or it will be so sloppy that you'll never get any revenue).

The reason that people don't realise this dichotomy is that the "unicorns" are companies that have often struck it rich, like the '49ers of old, by being lucky enough to be able to pick up gold off the ground. They break all the rules but are successful anyway. Do not attempt to replicate their success or you will become the toothless alcoholic sitting at the side of the road mumbling, "I coulda been a '49er".

Software is a very competitive business, prone to natural monopolies. A company that gets software written faster and better will, all other things being equal, put its competitors out of business. And when you're starting a startup, you feel this very keenly. Startups tend to be an all or nothing proposition. You either get rich, or you get nothing. In a startup, if you bet on the wrong technology, your competitors will crush you.

You didn't read PG's essays [1] did you?

[1]: http://paulgraham.com/avg.html

Yeah we thought we were going quick. "Takes years for people to launch and we built a perfect system in a few months!" was kind of our approach. We literally just should have bought a theme, connected our backend, and launched, then iterated the moment we saw cash. Reading all the things in the world won't matter until you start or have some frame of reference for the things you read. Now our frame of reference is our past failure.

I dare say even if you'd done the quick solution you may well still have been crushed by the competitor with VC funding. It's a tricky business. I guess one of the advantages of going through YC is the companies then generally have access to funding more easily than their competitors.

Before realizing that this was a Chesterton website, I took the word "Quotemeister" to indicate that this was a website called "The Quotemeister", wherein, I guessed, popular quotes were analyzed to get at their true meaning.

Does such a website exist?


It started with rap lyrics (as Amazon started with books), expanded to poetry/tech/news, and is on a wibbaldy wobbedly course to break down any body of text or website.

Here's a page on Oscar Wilde quotes: http://genius.com/Oscar-wilde-famous-oscar-wilde-quotes-anno...

Amazing – didn't think of that – thank you!

As some context from Wikipedia:

Chesterton is often referred to as the "prince of paradox."...

"Whenever possible Chesterton made his points with popular sayings, proverbs, allegories—first carefully turning them inside out."

>The line, “if a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly,” is not an excuse for poor efforts. It is perhaps an excuse for poor results. But our society is plagued by wanting good results with no efforts (or rather, with someone else’s efforts).

This relates to weight loss and the dependency on weight loss drugs. I see ads all the time for new weight loss supplements, or new workout machines, or fat burning belts. Stating that this will burn fat faster, with less effort. Society now thinks that in order to look fit you must take a fat burning pill, or some crazy concoction to actually loose weight. >We have left “the things worth doing” to others, on the poor excuse that others might be able to do them better. But in reality it just takes a healthy life style to be fit, so if loosing weight is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.

I think I prefer this quote without the context of the original author, given his attitudes and motivations in writing it.

Are there any quotes that you know of where you feel similarly? Where you have transplanted the quote into your own context, rather than the original context, and felt better about it as a result?

The Ender's Game series teaches kindness, thoughtfulness, compassion. The author is a homophobe. I'll take the learnings sans the homophobia!

"As for your second question, the Quotemeister generally tries to avoid explaining what Chesterton means. For two reasons. [...] Two, we think students should write their own class assignments rather than having us do it for them." Bwahaha

Steve Tyler of Aerosmith:

"If it is worth doing, it is worth overdoing."

... and you know he would say that.

To which Chesterton would reply, "We can thank God for beer and burgundy by not drinking too much of them."

I think it was Ayn Rand (per Google) *I love that saying though

The knowledge that she had a penchant for amphetamines certainly adds an interesting perspective to that quote...

I was thinking this must be the original source of a Zig Ziglar quote:

"Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly until you learn to do it well."

But the two quotes appear unrelated.

Or another way of looking at this is the following. If you take on new, large projects, you're often worried about the problems you face, how things are going to work, if your skills, effort and knowledge are enough. More often than not, you will end up with something reasonable upon completion (if you have enough self-control to get that far) and even if you fail miserably, you learned valuable lessons. So it is not a bad thing to confidently step into new directions, even if there's a risk or certainty that it won't be better than bad.

Example: I never baked a cake (ok that's not a large project ;p). I will bake a cake. I know it is most likely not going to turn out well. The result of my work might even be garbage that I have to dispose of. I will bake a bad cake. But the next cake will be better, I learned something from my mistakes.

If you're baking a cake, and have never done so before, you don't wade in and try to make the multi-layer chocolate scratch cake with ganache first.

You buy the box of Pillsbury Funfetti mix[1], measure out the cup of oil and crack two eggs in and mix it up and pour it into a 13x9 pan. Bake it up and throw some canned frosting on top.

Is this going to be the greatest cake in the world, no; it's ceiling is maybe 80% (or maybe higher, depending on how nostalgic you are for Funfetti). But it's hard to really screw it up.


If a thing is worth doing, doing it badly is still worthwhile because what matters is that it is done - to whatever degree.

Were doing it badly not worth doing at all, then the thing is not worth doing - only doing it well is.

What I find really interesting after mulling it over.. is that there's soo much crap out there -- being made well by really really talented people. I wonder if there's an easy heuristic to figure out if something is worth doing -- I think that we've exhausted the whole-> "do what you are passionate about" and "solve problems" bit as a source to figure out what to work on. Or have we?

I think passion is the best heuristic. Otherwise it depends on things we cant know. Will we be invaded by aliens in 1000 years? If so then thats going to change the optimal side project!

Brain surgery is one exception.

If it's not worth doing, it's not worth doing well.

IOW: Perfect is the enemy of good.

Not quite. I think you could read it that way, but I suspect Chesterton had a bit more of a principled idea in mind:

It is a good sign in a nation when things are done badly. It shows that all the people are doing them. And it is bad sign in a nation when such things are done very well, for it shows that only a few experts and eccentrics are doing them, and that the nation is merely looking on


This reminds me of one of the things Chesterton said about his trip to America. He concluded that if Prohibition drove so many families to making such good home-brewed beer, maybe Prohibition wasn't such a bad thing after all.

Hmmmm makes me wonder about the road construction crews. Is it a bad sign that they are so efficient?

Edit: How did this idea ever get upvoted by the progressives here on HN?

Where do you live that road construction is efficient?

It might just be that I live too close to Massachusetts, but we have a whole repertoire of "How many road workers does it take to change a light bulb?" jokes around here.

Perfect is the enemy of good enough.

Charlie Munger's quote is also insightful: "If a thing is not worth doing at all, it's not worth doing well."

I'm not so sure about this one. Doing something well can be a pleasure in itself, and even take the sting out of a job that looks like useless busywork. And if you find a really elegant solution it could be useful for something else later. At least you can take pride in yourself and keep your skills up.

Munger is something like a co-manager of Berkshire Hathaway. His quote should be considered in that context: if doing something isn't worth the effort, doing it well won't fix that.

Buffett's quoted that as a justification for not investing in small businesses in that he needs large deals to make a difference to Berkshire.

This reminds me of why I don't shy away from describing myself as both bright and lazy. I'd like to use my intelligence to minimize the effort of a task, especially one that seems quite menial or 'useless' in order to be smart about doing something dumb. From my experience it's a pretty useful mindset, with caveats of course.

I read Mungers' comment as a bit of inverse logic. If you see something a company is doing badly, there's a strong signal that it's not worth doing.

Similarly, within your own organisation, similar logic applies.

I heard something similar credited to Peter Drucker.

"There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all."

Doesn't it depend on what it is though? If my todo app breaks, no harm done other than a few irritated users. But if a dialysis machine breaks...

Or, if a dilettantish crypto app provides a false sense of security to political activists, which may be life-threatening as well, depending on their country.

Dialysis machines are really crappy compared to kidneys. And first dialysis machines were worse again

> But if a dialysis machine breaks

That's why we have standards for medical devices. A minimal implementation would still need to adhere to the required standards.

Worth doing badly as opposed to not doing it at all, ie you have to start somewhere even if that turns out to be inadequate later.

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