Around our office, there’s a phrase that I invoke every so often when confronted by challenging situations that seem insurmountable: “Let’s not make the perfect the enemy of the good.”
On a recent trip to Israel, I was reminded of this paradigm while in a learning session with Dr. Micha Goodman. Goodman shared his remarkable vision and roadmap to replace paralysis with pragmatism, convincingly arguing that our generation should abandon traditional peace-deal efforts in the Israel/Palestinian conflict by shifting focus to practical, short-term steps that will readjust mindsets, provide meaningful successes for both sides, and ultimately create the right conditions for the next generation to make peace.
What would it look like if philanthropy did similarly, if we abandoned the goal of the perfect and instead urgently embraced the “good enough” to actually make change?
In other words, to really make a meaningful difference, we must fall in love with the problem rather than with any one ideal solution. Yet, at the same time, we must maintain a laser-like focus on our ultimate goal and not become distracted by any particular tactic. Solutions need not be new to be effective; ideas are many. Rather than seeking the perfect new approach, perhaps we should pursue existing, yet “good enough” tactics and devote our energy to testing, refining, customizing and matching these strategies with real need.
Thousands of years ago, the sage Rabbi Tarfon put it differently though offered similar advice: Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief, he said. Do justly now, love mercy now, walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.
As we seek to make a meaningful difference in the world, philanthropists are some of those best positioned to abandon the endless pursuit of the perfect and embrace an urgent calling of the “good enough” to create bold, audacious change. Philanthropy is flexible capital with incredible capacity for risk, urgent and agile action, as well as bold and different thinking. Philanthropists represent diverse backgrounds, demographics, and professional fields. They bring a range of life experiences to their approaches. Philanthropy is an ideal lab, with the right ingredients, to incubate change — imperfectly perhaps, but with substance.
On the Jewish calendar, we are in the month of Elul leading up to the Jewish new year Rosh Hashana, followed by Yom Kippur. During Elul, we deliberately think about the imperfect within ourselves and in our community. We focus on introspection and examination and practical, small steps that can improve the self and the world. Through Elul, and as we near the High Holidays, we aim for progression rather than completion.
At Impact Cubed, we are not afraid of the imperfect and are eager to be of service. Along with our many partners, we learn about needs, trends and compelling approaches; convene funder conversations; facilitate family and philanthropist discussions; expand organizational capacity to do important work; and collaboratively prototype potential solutions in order to create a substantially better community and world! We’re not perfect and we’re proud of it. In fact, that’s what makes us good.
Wishing you a sweet and healthy new year,