The right 15%

Mar 2, 2024  |  2 min
 |  Craft Mastery

Summary: To be world-class requires focused effort and persistence in the right direction.

There’s a pattern of diminishing returns when it comes to polishing a product, a feature, a piece of writing or art.

As a rough estimation, getting to the first 85% of quality will take you, say, twenty units of effort. Then, continuing through the last 15% will take easily as much effort again — or perhaps more.

A chart with two axes, one for quality and one for effort. A curve on the graph shows that the first 50% of the effort gets you to 85% of the quality, and then the rest of the effort gets you the last 15% of the quality.

Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn, famously said, “If you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.” This embodies an anti-perfectionist perspective. “The perfect is the enemy of the good.”

And this is practical and wise. Shipping helps you learn. “No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy.” Inevitably, there are things you don’t know until you get something out into the world and start seeing how the world responds.

If you spend all your time refining something but never put it out there, you miss that learning. You refine the wrong things. Your effort goes to waste.


The first 85% effort is common. It’s normal to do that work. Everyone reaches that standard. It’s only in chasing that elusive last 15% that you become world-class.

The 15% is a filter. Who is serious, and who is only playing around?

Talent matters, yes. Knowledge matters, yes. But the sieve of effort, resistance, persistence, is the thing that separates the best. Fire burns chaff but refines gold.

The key, of course, is to know which 15%.

You can’t do everything, can’t be preeminent in everything. None of us has that much time or gifting or opportunity. We have responsibilities, families, legitimate demands on our attention and resources.

None of us is meant to be the best across the board. Humility is a good thing. It keeps us reasonable and kind.

And not everything that takes effort will make you successful. Effort and persistence — though admirable — are not in and of themselves universally good. They must be deployed in the right direction.

So look for it. Ship something in the world. Get your 85% out there. Capture the world’s feedback. Learn. Test. Iterate. Adapt.

Find the right 15%.

And then, once you’ve found it, give it all you’ve got.

You may never be world-class. Not all of us are, and not all of us need to be. But you’ll be your best. And in the right direction.

You’ll be doing the right 15%.

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