In business, “perfectionism” has a positive connotation – we think of overachievers obsessed with quality and demanding positive results. And organizations LOVE perfectionists. They work long and hard, demand great results, reduce errors and failures, and drive others to do the same. What’s not to like, right?
But perfectionism should be viewed as a negative that gets in the way of productivity and improvement. It’s time we all stop striving for perfection, and move into a more nimble, iterative approach to building things.
When you dispense with perfectionism, you gain many benefits:
- You will do more: Waiting for things to be perfect is a perfect recipe to stop moving forward, stop creating, stop doing things. Plus, no amount of perfectionism upfront can possibly prepare you for all the potential complexities and curves thrown at you in the real world – so better to get out there and address them live, as prepared as you can be.
- You won’t miss opportunities or lose momentum: If you continue to push for the perfect idea, the perfect opportunity, the perfect campaign, you may never achieve it. And if you finally do, it might be so late that you’ve lost your momentum and your competitive advantage. A perfect example – Bell Labs invented and received patents for cellular telephone technology as early as 1946, but demanded perfect quality before commercializing it, thus ceding the industry to other players.
- You will learn more: Perfectionism may protect you from making mistakes – but those mistakes also lead you to learnings that cause even greater breakthroughs. Remember, there are no “right” answers, anyway – especially in areas that demand creativity and innovation.
- You’ll know when to let go: Since you’ll know that there is no such thing as perfect, you’ll understand that there will be a point where the work is good – and that no amount of pre-work can predict or prepare for all possible real-world outcomes. It’s better to work on being prepared to iterate and improvise upon going live.
So, let’s cancel perfection – and embrace its opposite, imperfection. You’ll do more, learn more and succeed more. As General Patton said “a good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.”