Gilding the Lily

When I was a young process engineer, I was tasked to build a spreadsheet to help optimize a chemical plant. The spreadsheet was done quickly, but I was so enthusiastic that I decided to extend my efforts and build a state-of-the-art user interface. After weeks of work, my stunning interface was launched.

Yet, it soon became clear that it was irrelevant for the operators. What mattered was the data. The operators built their own shortcut to reach the data, while ignoring the interface I had created.

I learned three valuable lessons: 

First, actual improvement is based on quickly creating a prototype, which is then used to get feedback from the outside world. 

Second, you cannot learn and look good at the same time. If you take driving lessons, it is unrealistic to morph into an outstanding driver the very moment you sit behind the wheel for the first time.

Third, leave good enough alone: The drive to improve something which is already very good is called gilding the lilly. It’s a waste of time and often has the opposite effect.

An 80 percent solution is often the perfect recipe to move ahead and thrive. 

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