Perfection is lots of little things done well
I hope you're having a good week.
Are you someone who would class yourself as a perfectionist?
Most business owners I know want to do the absolute best they can when it comes to what they do.
After all, why settle for anything less?
But did you know, that perfectionism can be a real problem when it comes to productivity?
Let me explain.
There's a saying that goes: "perfection is the enemy of progress".
It can seem counterintuitive.
Perfect, by definition, is what beats everything else out there, right?
But what it really means is that if you spend all your time trying to refine something to its absolute best state before getting it out...
9 times out of 10? It never gets out there.
Why? Because you end up stuck in the weeds trying to polish something that's already good enough to an impossible sheen.
All to chase something that is just that little bit better than excellent.
It often becomes a case of diminishing returns.
You end up spending as much time trying to get something from 95-100% - as you did getting it from 0-95%! Sound familiar?
When all is said and done, would you prefer:
Ten fantastic pieces of work?
One perfect piece of work?
In the light of day, I think most would prefer the first one.
This is the deceit of perfectionism.
It is something that high-performers really need to get a grip on lest it becomes an Achilles heel.
It's a self-esteem thing
You may not know this already, but there are two types of perfectionism.
Positive (or "normal") perfectionism and negative (or "neurotic") perfectionism.
The distinction is important. It can help you build a constructive approach to consistently achieving excellence in your work.
Afshar, Hamid et al. state in their paper on this subject:
"Perfectionism has been defined by Burns in 1980 as “…those whose standards are high beyond reach or reason, people who strain compulsively and unremittingly toward impossible goals and who measure their own worth entirely in terms of productivity and accomplishment. For these people, the effort for excellence is self-defeating.1” A simpler definition has been offered by Horney as “the tyranny of the shoulds”, which makes the person to be highly critical of one's own behavior.2
It is usually emphasized that perfectionism is accompanied with negative feelings of failure, procrastination, and shame, due to its underlying psychopathology.3,4 However, perfectionism has some adaptive or healthy aspects, as it promotes striving for excellence. This type of perfectionism has been named as “normal perfectionism”. People who have high-performance expectations and standards without being involved in negative self-appraisal are labelled as “normal” perfectionists,5,6 while those with high standards who are captured in negative self-appraisal, such as self-doubt and worrying about making mistakes, are named as “neurotic” perfectionists."
If you're feeling geeky, you can read the entire article here.
The long and short of it is... when we do try to do the absolute best that we can - we should try to not attach our idea of self-worth to our performance.
Instead, having a realistic idea of our ability and pushing ourselves beyond that, should be seen as a source of pride and boundary testing. That is "positive perfectionism".
Framed as a positive exercise, rather than one which makes us feel unworthy... means we will be more motivated to repeat the pursuit of excellence in the future.
If this is something that resonates and that you find a bit difficult. Another key point is to Trust. The. Process.
This is the difference between pushing yourself toward perfection and... punishing yourself for not reaching it. Makes you think!
How do you eat an elephant?
One bite at a time!
Famous Leodian Marco Pierre White often says that "perfection is lots of little things done well".
(Two culinary metaphors in one, well, just about!)
An article that I recently shared with the team goes into more detail about this.
Alongside the above, reading this was one of those moments where a range of ideas click and you go - aha!
The premise here is that when it comes to the pursuit of excellence people tend to get attached to the outcome.
Instead, focus and energy are better placed in refining and developing truly excellent processes and systems. When you have these, you find that the outcomes are remarkable by default - and almost feel like a "bonus"... because your focus was on all the little things that made it happen.
What's more, improving all of those little compound things is much easier than trying to "eat the elephant whole" (or climb Everest, if that's a more easy comparison).
There are a couple of famous books which really got into more detail about this - which if you haven't heard of I totally recommend.
Atomic Habits by James Clear
The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy.
Maybe, I'll speak about these a bit more in-depth down the line - but they are definitely worth your time.
So, to wrap up.
If you're someone with a thousand half-finished projects on the shelf - remember to:
1. Invest your energy and time into developing excellent processes that create it, not the outcome in and of itself
2. Try not to get too hung up on what happens, be realistic about what you can achieve
3. Remember, perfect is exceptional not the baseline. Good can be good enough in certain circumstances
What do you think? Is this something that you or your team experience from time to time? Let me know! I would be extremely interested to hear what you think.
Hope you have a brilliant week,