Scott’s Thoughts: The Price of Perfection

House of Cards

The pursuit of perfection can be a real house of cards.

“A man would do nothing if he waited until he could do it so well that no one could find fault.”

John Henry Newman, Doctor of Divinity (February 1801 – August 1890)

There is nothing quite so costly to our productivity as the idea of perfection.

Do I believe in self-improvement? Of course. Do I advocate learning, testing, and refining our knowledge to help us become better at what we do? Always, every week. But this idea of “perfection” actually comes with an incredible price.

Ask yourself the following:

  • Have you ever missed a deadline because you were paralyzed by doubt over your decisions?
  • Do your projects slow to a crawl because you feel the final product must be perfect?
  • Would you rather do nothing than do something you know will have some flaws?

If you’ve had these feelings, you’ve likely felt the pinch of perfection compromising your productivity. On one hand, the drive for perfection sounds like a noble pursuit, that we are engaged in the search for excellence at every turn. But it could be that our urge for perfection is actually a convenient self-sabotaging strategy.

You see, when we force ourselves to “find perfection,” we’re more or less giving ourselves an excuse to delay action indefinitely. It’s only when we try our ideas, “ship our products,” and provoke response that we learn, adapt, and invite change. But when we refuse to take those actions, we protect ourselves from change. We remain in a comfort zone of inaction, all in the name of “a better outcome.”

Give it your all, but learn to recognize when you’ve given it. There’s a point at which you must let go of perfection in the interest of results, risk, and learning. Pick one thing today and get it out the door, even if it falls short of your ideal. You might just find the process liberating and the results better than you expect.

(Photo credit: gibbons)

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