Law of the Third Best

Law of the Third Best

In the mid-1930s, it was apparent that Germany, under Hitler, was renewing its military capabilities. When given the task in 1935 of developing his radar concept, there was clear urgency in successfully completing his task. In his autobiography, Three Steps to Victory, Watson-Watt commented on the approach used to select the technologies to be incorporated into the initial coastal radar systems. When making the selection, he realized the need to “give them the third best to go on with, the second best comes too late, the best never comes.” (Odhams Press Limited, London, 1957, p. 74)

Arthur M. Squires resurrected Watson-Watt’s thinking in his recommended book The Tender Ship: Governmental Management of Technological Change. (Birkäuser, Boston, 1986, p. 122) Referring to this as Watson-Watt’s “Law of the Third Best”, Squires stated it as:

  • “Best never comes.
  • Second best takes too much time.
  • Design a product that works—the third best—and build it.

“The ‘third best’ is what can be validated without unacceptable cost or delay.”