What do the Tata Nano – world’s cheapest car, the MP3 music file, the Predator Drone – unmanned military strike plane, and the Netbook – the laptop lite, have in common?

They are all part of an emerging, unintended consensus in satisfying users – sometimes you don’t need to be the best, it is okay to be Good Enough. In fact many times it is better. This is a direct contradiction of the pursuit of excellence and quality thinking that has been the dominant paradigm. The idea was always to cram features and cutting edge into a product and wait for appreciative users to lap them up in huge numbers. However, as each of these four illustrative examples show, you may not need to do the very best you possibly can to get them to buy. You only need to be Good Enough.

The Net Book is the prime example of this apparent contradiction. It was primarily designed to be a very cheap, sturdy and long on power alternative for developing countries where all these factors are vital.In the developed countries, to the complete surprise of the industry, the net book became a howling hit. Europe embraced it faster than the Americas. Everybody, it seemed wanted a small computer they could tote around to check the mail and news and their Facebook profiles on.

It is not as if the Netbook is not revolutionary in technical terms. It uses open source Linux, or used to, so that Microsoft wouldn’t need to be factored in, a flash memory instead of a drive, processors that require minimal power, and LCD panels that are smart enough to shut down when not required. Still the reason for which the Netbook was embraced was none of these. It was because the product was exactly what people want. This is was ‘trickle up’, reverse economics as it were, the bottom of the pyramid suddenly supplying value to the top. Net books are poised to become over 20 per cent of the market in 2010 and that figure is likely to grow.

Netbook proved that people were basically overloading their computer with a lot of features that they might use, but usually never got round to. Email, surfing, streaming videos, that is what people need. Only industry professionals need heavy hardware. Add to the factor that cloud computing means most of your computer tasks have been taken over by the browser, and your normal desktop turned out to be the equivalent of keeping a cannon in reserve to swat a mosquito. You don’t even need Photoshop anymore for example unless you are a professional. Something like FotoFlexer will do the low tech job most of need to edit our pictures and more importantly it is free online. The Netbook understood that for most people a computer is of no use when it not online. In other words it is Good Enough. Not being able to play DVDS is a small trade-off.

The Tata Nano is another example of Good Enough. The average person in India don’t really want a powerful monster car able to accelerate from 0 to 60 in seconds. For one thing there are no free roads to do it on and for another you would hit somebody before you ever got to 60. Yet a small cheap car beats walking, or waiting for and then actually riding in public transportation. The Nano is Good Enough, both for the financial and road reality. Tata Motors has chutzpah and they took the Nano to a university in the USA to see what the students thought of it. They complained about the lack of cup holders and points to plug in electronic devices but otherwise they thought it made a very sensible option for university life. Does anybody think Tata cannot put those in? And will students hesitate to buy a fully functional car that complies with environmental and safety norms and is cheaper than the music system in luxury cars?

The MP3 story is even more instructive. Initially the music industry was not worried because the format produced sound quality that was, and in most cases, remains, awful. But smaller audio file size meant that music could get, first into the computer and then onto the Net. Sharing music, purchasing it and the sheer volume of what you could tote around proved to be more important than sound quality. The MP3 was Good Enough. In fact young people seem to have become so accustomed to its audio quirks that they actually prefer its sound and tone to the more conventional hi definition recordings. At least Jonathan Berger, Professor of Music at Stanford, says so after studying his students for six years. They have adapted to evolution!

The US military would probably be the last place that would embrace Good Enough. However the Predator Drone unmanned striker plane has confounded them in providing most value for money. Piloted aircraft are superior in ever possible respect; Predators are slower, fly lower and carry less weaponry but Predators, a propeller craft for crying out loud, have proved to be the most valuable! For one thing you can keep a Predator flying over a hot spot 20 hours a day, something not possible with manned flights. If shot down, well it is much cheaper than any other plane, a replacement can be sent up and nobody dies. A Predator enables the military to have constant visual of the target area, called ‘situational awareness’ and also to launch near pinpoint accurate strikes. It is more than Good Enough. The Predator has logged in over 250 000 flight hours over Iraq, Afghanistan, the Balkans and our dear neighbor Pakistan.

This phenomenon of Good Enough might at first glance seem like the Indian reality of ‘Chalega’ – or ‘It will do’. The concept of Good Enough is not to settle into a comfortable mediocrity or overlook incompetence with the belief that it doesn’t matter. Good Enough implies that there is a certain point beyond which you do not need to push quality for the larger mass of users; specialists can be serviced by quality niche products. For most people something that functions simply and reasonably well, does not break down often, and is cheap is Good Enough.

Note: This article was written in 2011.