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When is it OK to opt for “good enough”?
- Mike Martin, AT Armor

Some of the most contentious and emotion filled arguments spring from the “just as good as” statement assigned to a particular piece of equipment, clothing, or component. We have all witnessed or participated in the passionate defense of one’s material choice, to do so is simply human nature. It is a personal affront for some to be challenged on their choice of a material solution. For better or for worse the golden age of the www has launched these discussions and arguments from the break room and lunch table to instantaneous exposure in front of the thousands of internet experts and operators for consideration and opinion. But why did we make that particular choice? Is there a methodology or decision criteria we use to determine if a particular item meets our requirements? We have discussed quality at length before, but there are 50 shades of Multicam on either side of the binary question “is it good enough?”

The best place to start is with the question of meeting requirements. If an item does not meet the individual, department or unit requirement then it should immediately be screened out and relegated to the throw away Course of Action (COA) pile. This leaves us only with the selections that meet (the key word in the selection process) our requirements. Within these remaining options there are material selections that will be optimal, exceed, or are adequate (good enough). It is the “good enough” determination that warrants exploration.

When we choose a material solution for a requirement we always mentally trade off features, attributes, and cost. Always. We may not consciously admit to doing so, but there is a process that runs in the background every time we make a purchase. I would argue that in order to arrive at the best solution available for yourself or your organization we should make that process a deliberate one with conscious thought. Do not read this as being a long and complicated approach, just a deliberate one.

What role does the item have (the requirement) and what are the consequences if it fails?

Even in the armed professional realm not all items are of equal importance. The same holds true for the professional Citizen or casual day hiker. Some items are more critical than others, thus the assignment of the adjective to only those items that are indeed “critical”. When we take an objective look at our requirements the items that are non-negotiable are determined by the result of any potential failure of that particular item. The severity and frequency (opportunity) of these if/then statements to occur will guide the assignment of the importance of the item. “If my magazine fails to feed then I may lose the fight and be killed” carries a lot more weight than “if the backpack with my laptop splits a seam on the way to the coffee shop I will have to carry it by hand”. These mental wargames can greatly assist with the decision process and uncover solutions to problems that may not have been as important as we thought they were. Will the failure of the item under consideration result in severe injury or loss of life, mission failure, or significant damage to other material items that cannot be easily recovered? If the answer is yes to any of these questions then the item is not one that should be compromised on or quality traded away for. The lower limits of “good enough” become much higher for critical items, and the priority to acquire them goes to the front of the line.

Context Matters

The requirements determination cannot be done in a vacuum devoid of context. Your requirements may be different from mine. A mountaineering enthusiast would recoil in disgust at my choice in backpack or the thought that I would choose to use a plain old 100 percent wool watch cap for winter wear (most of the time). But his context and resulting requirements are vastly different from mine and call for different priorities and attribution of that “critical item” adjective.

“Buy once, cry once”…or not?

What about non-critical item selection? How do we select something that is “good enough”? We have to take a hard, honest look at how we make those decisions. Yeah the other well-made brand’s rain shell won’t put you in good graces with the Dead Chicken constabulary, but if the frequency and duration of wear is to and from the local outdoor shop is it good enough? While the off brand superstore 60 dollar rain shell probably doesn’t meet the base requirement (keep you dry without turning you into a sweaty burrito), are there other quality options that do and will still get the job done properly? The war cry of “Only the best will do for Mrs. Martin’s baby boy!” may not apply to as many things as we lead ourselves to believe. A Rolex solution for a G Shock problem is not efficient. Don’t misunderstand me, when it is time to stay dry in the field, apply kinetic solutions, protect, heal, or see at night it is time to spend some money.

Frequency, type of use, cost

Frequency, duration, and real (not imagined) requirements should drive the decision for non-critical items. How often do you use it? IF it fails, THEN what is the result? There may be times when critical items may be non-critical (remember that context matters). Take magazines for example. Surplus GI aluminum 5.56 mags on the range? Sure, why not. If there is a failure, push pull and get on with life. Step off the line and throw it in the trash can. Same bent ass 5 dollar surplus mags loaded in your HD carbine or on a duty rig? Nope, PMAGs all around. Chinese made gear pouch with some batteries and wet wipes in your range bag? You betcha, good enough. Chinese made plate carrier with improper stitching and low quality control in your squad car? No officer, that isn’t ok.

Know what you are doing and why you are doing it

Know what you are doing and why you are doing it. My good bud Chad Halvorson always says this when he is teaching...simple words of wisdom. It comes down to the following: don’t kid yourself. I’m not arguing against selecting high end solutions for non-critical requirements…at all. I do that more times than not, but it is a personal, informed choice. The purpose of this is to offer up “A way” to think through gear and equipment selection. Determine your requirement for a piece of kit, decide if it is indeed critical through some “if/then” wargaming. If you determine it to be a non-critical item, apply the same if/then wargaming through the frequency and duration lens of YOUR reality to see if there are material solutions you may not have considered. Just remember there still exists the floor where you cross over from “good enough” to single use junk. By definition these items are downgraded to the No-Go column from Jump Street. Good enough solutions are just that: good enough. There are some exceptional solutions in the marketplace, we are fortunate to live in the golden age of information. Reviews of nylon gear, equipment, knives, watches, battery chargers…you name it. Odds are there are more than a few video reviews on that particular piece of kit. Professional forums, discussion groups, and direct feedback from industry professionals are an invaluable resource to determine if the alternate solution is 1. above the cutoff line and 2. is both viable and applicable for YOU. Even the large reseller websites with customer reviews are an outstanding source for details and feedback. Do your research, don’t get sucked in to the emotional defense of your best bud’s lifelong brand loyalty without the facts. It might save you buying sub-standard solutions, but more importantly it will promote self-awareness, help define what is truly essential to your role, and free up resources to apply to those critical items that have little margin for error. There is an old saying, “the enemy of effective is perfection.” Being effective today beats being perfect tomorrow every doggone time.