Why Worry About Perfection?

Nothing kills enthusiasm, productivity, or value like perfection. Perfection is to ideas and innovation as chlorine is to living things — it’s absolutely toxic. Yet, some of us are slavish devotees of perfection. Why is that?

“The best is the enemy of the good.”
(Voltaire, 1694-1778)

You hear it all the time. “Second place isn’t good enough…winners never quit, and quitters never win.” Don’t you sometimes wish you could make those who spout such platitudes disappear? (Not once? Really?) Well, with perfection constantly looking over your shoulder — being overly critical of every move you make — your ideas, enthusiasm, and drive wither. With perfection, there is no progress.

Did you ever think that perfection is what keeps us in those boxes we’re always supposed to be thinking outside of? Maybe perfection is the lid on each of our boxes.

“Do it right or don’t do it at all.”
(Dads everywhere, dawn of humankind-?)

Let’s face it. We are flawed and we make mistakes, all the time. It’s that fear of being discovered as imperfect that, ironically, prevents many of us from discovering and realizing our potential. Where we could be seeing opportunities for improvement, instead we see failures.

“Have no fear of perfection. You’ll never reach it.”
(Salvador Dali, 1904-1989)

ISO 9001 says (in so many words that) the ideal company is the one that makes mistakes, admits to them, understands why they happened, and uses that knowledge and understanding to prevent a recurrence of those mistakes.

The authors of the international Quality standard understood the impossibility of perfection. That is why the continual improvement clause was written into the first version of the standard (in 1987) and why it is still a cornerstone of process and product quality.

“I don’t want you to be perfect…
I want you to be happy with the choices you make.”

(Me, to my son)

As business leaders, it’s important for us to cultivate an atmosphere in our organizations where fear does not exist — one where people are free to test novel ideas without reproach (so long as no one’s hurt, of course). To insist on a world of absolutes — to constantly harp on employees that “failure is not an option”, for example — contaminates business and relationships. It’s, sort of like I said before, like poisoning your own well.

Don’t insist on perfection — insist on “better”.

* * * * * * *

I gave the name “perfection” to the top of the box. For argument’s sake, what would you call the bottom, the four sides, and the lid? Besides perfection, what’s holding you or your company back?

Thank you for your comments.


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Posted in Employee Engagement, Innovation, Leadership

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