Great is the Enemy of Good

March 24, 2022

While Never Search Alone is going through the publishing process (should be out later this spring), I have begun working on my next next book, Never Lead Alone.

And core to that book is this: 

If good is the enemy of great – as so many believe now in business – then by the law of equivalence, I can turn it around and say that great is the enemy of good.

So, with all due respect to Jim Collins, one of the few business writers I really respect, and author of Good to Great, my mission in my next next book will be to help you be (and do) good in your career.

I find that a lot of sins are committed in the pursuit of greatness. You can watch Showtime’s Super Pumped for the story of Uber and Travis Kalanick, or Apple TV+’s WeCrashed for the story of Adam Neumann and WeWork (important side note: Collins recommends humble leadership in his book – nothing like what you see with Kalanick or Neumann). 

Both stories are about humans willing to do anything to be great. 

And, as a result, they are *not* good.

You can apply this same logic to the mistakes in the AI world of the last 10 years. Many thought AI would be *great* and do all kinds of things and overlooked that the algorithms do some good things, but A) they are nowhere near general intelligence; and B) they can come with negative unintended consequences.

What I’m suggesting is not new thinking. 

The Duke of Albany warned of it in Shakespeare’s King Lear:

“striving to better, oft we mar what’s well”

To be an ordinary human with all of our foibles is itself amazing. 

To live a satisfied life is hard and miraculous if achieved. 

To do good work with colleagues is, as we say on Passover, dayenu. 

Many business writers will tell you that you are amazing, a star, a human with boundless potential. 

They will promise to unlock your success through their remarkable secrets.

I will *not* do that in this next next book.

Instead, I will help you play something I call Positive Politics.

Positive Politics asks you to to embrace your ordinary humanity, focus on doing (and being) good for your colleagues and customers, and stop worrying about becoming a star – really, have you noticed how crazy celebrities are…who wants that anyway?.

As a result, you will paradoxically discover that you can marshal more power and create more impact (including making more money and getting promoted).

In other words, I’m suggesting that to focus on being good does *not* mean that you can’t create great results. 

You can.

When investing your money in stocks, you have broadly speaking two choices: 1) you can accept being good and put your money into an S&P 500 Index Fund and guarantee you receive the market average; or 2) you can try to swing for the fences and make individual stock selections (or have a financial advisor do so for you).  

Here’s the math of being good (or slightly better than average).

You can.

Take for example, Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger. Their goal is to be slightly above average (another way of saying they want to be good, not great).

Here’s the math of being good (or slightly better than average).

If your financial advisor says they can get you a 7 percent per annum, and you are able to achieve let’s say 8%, what does that mean?

If you invest $100,000 and get a return of 7% per annum over 60 years, then you end up with $5.8 million dollars.

If you instead do slightly better – if you get a *good* return of 8% – then how much do you end up with?

Take a guess before reading on.

$10.1 million. 

And even better if you forget about the financial advisor and put your money in an S&P 500 index fund and achieve the market average of 10% per annum, guess again what your future value will be.

Hold on to your mouse.

$30.4 million

By getting an average index return, you have sextupled your results.

This is the power of good.

So, paradoxically, what I’m actually saying is that good can be great – if you are patient, persistent, and long-term oriented (core tenets of Positive Politics).

Look forward to seeing you in Chicago live (or remote)!


P.S. A reminder – if you have high school or college-aged students and you want to introduce them to business and finance (they don’t have to be gung-ho about business, just interested to learn some basics), then we have a great *free* summer program. Go to for details and the online application.

P.P.S. Slow Art Day is coming up Saturday, April 2. I started this program more than 10 years ago as a way to create a good museum experience. It’s now been run in more than 1,500 museums on every continent. Check out to see if there’s a museum near you participating…and if not, do it yourself. Go with friends or family and look at five pieces of art for 10 minutes each and experience for yourself how that will blow your mind.

Here’s a photo of me enjoying some good art at MoMA in New York this past weekend.

About the Author

Phyl Terry

Phyl Terry, Founder and CEO of Collaborative Gain, Inc., launched the company’s flagship leadership program – The Councils – in 2002 with a fellow group of Internet pioneers from Amazon, Google, and others. Thousands of leaders from the Internet world have come together in the last 15 years to learn the art of asking for help and to support each other to build better, more customer-centric products, services, and companies.

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