To the Editor:
I enjoyed reading your treatise on Good-Enough innovation and wholeheartedly agree with your assessment. I know many people who won’t even attempt anything new unless the result offers some guarantee of perfection. They always talk about how they’ve got their eye out for opportunities that can deliver the “big win” and the “slam-dunk” but these folks never seem to get much accomplished. Maybe they think it’s too risky?
Please accept the following list of good-enough innovations that I think are worth mentioning.
If you decide to post this please sign me,
1949, Lego-brand “Automatic Binding Bricks” (a.k.a. “Legos”). How could you guys have missed this one? Legos were all over Bob Capp’s article in Wired: The Lego version of Nirvana’s Nevermind album cover was clearly meant to represent MP3’s harsh rendering of music. The Lego sculpture of a desk telephone tells me that Skype may not be as good as a real telephone, but it’s close enough for jazz (no pun on the previous musical reference). A Lego model of the Predator plane can’t actually fly, but then the actual MQ-1 Predator is too small to carry a pilot, so it’s kind of a toy plane that drops real bombs. Lego bricks are kind of an anti-toy because the play they inspire has to come entirely from the child’s imagination. Legos are about the only toy that adults can play with without shame. As a kid, Legos inspired my little brother to flush them down the toilet. He really liked plumbing.
1955, McDonald’s Fast Food. McDonald’s Restaurants do not sell the best food. They do not have the best service. Their reputation for delivering nutritional value to the masses could be said to be less than stellar. But when Ray Kroc walked into the McDonald brothers’ restaurant and saw the assembly line system they came up with to make food fast, he knew he was on to something: because of the system, McDonald’s made the least-expensive, best food available in under 1-minute. And for billions of people on the go, that’s way good enough. For me, the guarantee of a tidy lavatory is a good enough reason to pull in when traveling.
1963, Doctor Who. I love a good show. My boyfriend likes a good show too, but we rarely agree on what that might be. Thank goodness for The Doctor! Can you imagine the pitch made to BBC executives in 1963: “Picture this… A Time Lord who travels space and time in a larger-on-the-inside ship called the TARDIS, which looks like a British police box…” Surely the BBC thought it would never last and yet there it is: Guinness World Records recognizes the BBC’s Doctor Who as the longest-running science-fiction TV show. The Doctor prevails despite regular rotations of main characters (it’s built into the plot) and decidedly low-tech special effects. Well-written, imaginative stories coupled with good casting sometimes really can be good enough.
1965, Shure SM57. Before the mid-1960s, microphones were fragile, temperamental, feedback-inducing things. Based on Shure’s Unidyne III, the SM57 added an XLR connector and a good windscreen. It didn’t need phantom power and, in a pinch, could be used to hammer nails. Are there better mics? Sure. There are worse ones that cost more too. If nothing else, the SM57 is predictable. Every president since Johnson has had one at the podium. Every song that Bono has recorded has been sung into an SM57. The day I left for college, my dad gave me one in a sock to use in self-defense. Now available at Walmart (another good-enough story).
1966, Toyota Corolla. The Corolla would never be mistaken for a paragon of design, engineering, or marketing. It lacks the VW Beetle’s timeless cuteness; the Mazda RX-3s performance; the Subaru’s engineering; the Mini’s funky fun. You’ll never see it as a main character in a Disney movie. The real Volkswagen Beetle (1938-2003) came to America much earlier and is now regarded as one of the most influential cars of the century. Just two years after its 1968 US debut, the nondescript Corolla became the second-best selling imported car in America. By 1997, Toyota’s econo-box was the best-selling nameplate in the world with an average of one Corolla sold every 40-seconds (one every 23.2-seconds as of 2009). That’s faster than you can get a burger at McDonalds. In 2008, it became the best-selling automobile in America, dethroning my personal favorite, the Ford F-150, which held the distinction, almost continuously, for 17-years. Automotive industry consultant Glady Reign attributes the Corolla’s success to its “balance of quality, style, and affordability.” It was the first Japanese car manufactured in America and today, the basic assembly is constructed in over 140-countries. Even if you knew nothing about cars, you probably couldn’t go wrong buying a Corolla, which is, of course, good enough (unless you need to tow a boat, or your last name is Gosselin). Still, when I step out of Walmart and survey the parking lot — a teal blue ocean of Corollas as far as the eye can see — I know I’ll be spending the rest of the afternoon trying to figure out which one is mine (it’s the one with the SM57 in the glove box).
1999, Blogging. The double-edged sword of super-powers is that with great power comes great responsibility, or so says Peter Parker. The proliferation of weblogs or “blogs” (websites dedicated to commentary, editorialism and other forms of informal, ad hoc posting, independent journalism and, in some cases, rampant navel-gazing) is regarded as a vast wasteland of mindless yammerings or an important tool that renews our First Amendment rights (mostly, it depends on whether or not the reader agrees with the blogger’s position). Nonetheless, whether they are grass-roots tools for reporting or commenting on current events, or a shill for The Man, blogs are the fastest-growing information and news dissemination medium today. They are not perfect. They tend to be scrappy and, more often than not, cheeky and a bit full of themselves, but on a good day, they can serve to kick-start important discussions and get people to think.
These are some other good-enough items I came up with…
|AC-DC. Making the most of the same three chords for more than a quarter-century.||Andy Warhol. Campbell’s Soup and day-glow Marilyn Monroe was good enough for the art world.|
|For 25-Grand, Blair Witch made unscripted digi-cam (or shaky-cam) the next big thing for Hollywood movies.||Until Google came along, web search engines lived on cluttered pages and returned cluttered results. Anyone remember AltaVista?|
|Google Docs give me most of what I need for free (my favorite price), accessible from any computer.||Google *anything*|
|Instant Messaging. Real-time communications that are not-so email-worthy, not worth a phone call, and certainly not worth the walk to your neighbor’s cubical.||Nintendo DS. Only the most portable fun you can have for under $150.|
|Old Navy stores. Functional, stylish clothing that doesn’t shrink or fall apart, mostly under $20.||Redbox has the best movies on earth… for a buck a day. Found at McDonald’s and super markets everywhere.|
|Romance Novels. More than 50% of US paperbacks are formulaic and a little racy and I never need to skip ahead to see how the story ends.||Wal-Mart. I’m more ashamed to admit to shopping here, than to reading Harlequins.|
|MS Windows. After a quarter of a century, still the best $89 solitaire game you can buy.||Wine-in-a-box. In the evening, I like to have a single glass of wine (not a whole bottle, thanks) but I’m always covered in case I need to take the edge off the guilt of returning from Wal-Mart with a Harlequin.|
||by Anita Vidwell|