Good Enough Pt. 2: A Brief History


It is my wish to challenge you to consider new learning space. Although I am not privy to inside information that maps out exactly what the future look like, I am quite certain that future learning environments will be the product of this new economy and not the one before it. None of us should be inclined to sit on our hands and let the cards fall where they may.

It is my wish to help you recognize that such change is possible for you. You are the stewards, the planners, the trainers, builders and fixers. More so than your boss or your reports, you have a clearer understanding of your customer as well as the prevailing constraints that thwart your ability to do right by your customer. Given the circumstances, who could blame anyone who decided to wait for someone else to figure it out?

Throughout history, ordinary people with an idea, tenacity and some luck carved out some thing (often some quite modest thing) that proved to be extraordinary over time.

Something disruptive.

Disruptive things are rarely perfect. Often, they appear to be quite flawed in comparison to the other bits and bobs for sale on the shelf. In the final analysis, however, disruptive things proved to be good enough in critical ways that may not have appeared obvious (or of any value) at the time of their introduction.

Good enough is within our grasp. So let's get going…

The Recap

Last week's thesis (based on Bob Capp's hypothesis, "flexibility over high-fidelity, convenience over features, quick and dirty over slow and polished…. having it here and now is more important than having it perfect.") suggested that the essence of good-enough is found in the degree to which it strikes a perfect balance (see graph below) between what could be done with an array of features, functions and services, and what actually needs doing. Somewhere within the region between these two points resides good-enough nirvana.

We present this exercise to leave no doubt that such phenomenon are not merely possible, but vital; not rare but ubiquitous; not for a privileged few, but for the people.


To drive home the point, we offer this abbreviated timeline of good-enough throughout the ages [send us your good-enough list and we'll be glad to post it -Ed.]


1908, the Model-T Ford competed against autos from more than 250 manufacturers that were available in its first year of production. It was neither the cheapest nor the most well-made and offered no technological innovations that were readily apparent to shoppers of the time. Henry Ford had already gone through 19 previous versions (Models "A" through "S") before the Model-T. It was, however, the first mass-produced car with completely interchangeable parts that could be replaced easily and quickly. And, unlike the competition, it was marketed to the middle class as a utility rather than to the elite as a sport. By 1914, Ford produced more cars than all other auto manufacturers combined. By 1915, the cost of a Model-T had dropped from $850 to $440 (equivalent to about $9k today), and then down to $360 the following year. The car was so successful that Ford purchased no advertising between 1917 and 1923.

BICcristal2008-03-26_300 1950, Bic Pen. Frenchman, Marcel Bich perfected an oil-based ink that neither leaked nor clogged when loaded behind a 1mm, stainless steel sphere. During World War II, Bich was impressed with an Argentinean ballpoint pen developed by László Bíró and bought the patent. During the 1950s, Bich’s "Atomic Pen" helped to shift every-day writing from complicated and often-messy fountain pens to ballpoints. In the early 1060s, the "Bic Crystal" captured the US market selling for 19-cents with the slogan "writes every time." As of 2004, the Bic Crystal is the most widely sold pen in the world with more than 100-billion units manufactured and is part of the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection for innovative industrial design.

3Sony610NM 1958 Transistor Radios. Usable transistor radios (AM only) by other manufacturers had been available for four years by the time the Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo company renamed itself after its modestly successful TR-55 "Sony" 5-transistor radio and released the Sony TR-610 pocket radio, which went on to sell more than a half-million units. With tinny sound (even with a monaural ear-bud), directional interference, and marginal battery life, these early portable radios performed poorly compared to their vacuum-tube cousins sitting on the living room hutch, but these pocket radios could go fishing, or to the ball game (where it was not unusual to see fans watching the game from the stands while listening to the play-by-play of their favorite radio announcer. Portability trumped fidelity and, according to Wikipedia, "the transistor radio remains the single most popular communications device in existence" with more than seven-billion units in existence.

Betavhs_180 1975, VHS Tape. The VHS home video cassette tape (left, bottom) pioneered by JVC appeared to have no chance of success against Sony’s technologically superior Betamax (left, top), which commanded 100% of the market in 1975. The Betamax was first to market and, to some extent, rode the coattails of Sony’s incredibly successful U-Matic industrial tape format. Perhaps this contributed to Sony’s willingness to proceed without significant partners in R&D or marketing, driving off consumers who purchased the less-costly, more feature-rich VHS decks. Few consumers purchased VCRs to record shows for time-shift viewing, as initially projected, but rather to be able to rent movies and them watch at home. Movie titles were far more plentiful (and fit better) on VHS than Betamax. By 1980, VHS owned nearly 70% of the market.

MotorolaMicroTAC9800x_180 1989, Pocket Cell Phone. Motorola MicroTAC pocket cellular telephone altered the perception of mobile telephony. Until the MicroTAC, cellular phones were so big they were relegated to "carphones". The MicroTAC was succeeded by the StarTAC "clamshell" mobile phone in 1996, which, in a 2005 technology feature, PC World named #6 of The 50 Greatest Gadgets of the Past 50 Years. The ability to carry the communications power of a telephone on your person, changed the nature of business communications throughout the 1990s, and its affordability (and subsequent ubiquity) changed our very culture in the 2000s. Note: Even today, hard-wired POTS phones offer better audio quality and greater session stability (fewer dropped calls) than cell phones, but that doesn’t seem to matter to most of us who value the ability to make or receive a phone call where ever we may be.

Craigslist_250 1996, Craigslist is a certified wreck according to Gary Wolf in the same Wired issue with Bob Capp’s Good Enough article. The claim has been made that it single-handedly put newspaper classified ads out of business with 47-million unique users each month. Despite a clunky, user-unfriendly interface right out of 1999 it makes lots of money for its owners, who appear totally disinterested in fashioning any kind of facelift. Why should they when, for their intents as well as the intents of one-fifth of the adult US population who use it, Craigslist seems good enough.

Next time: good enough learning space…

by Joe Schuch
Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

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