The Perfect Enemy of Progress
As a founder of a brand experience agency with the motto “good enough is no longer good enough,” you might suspect that perfectionism has been a challenge for the company. And, you’d be right.
I’m the type of person who wants everything I create to say something about who I am as a person. Realizing that I’m probably not the most creative, brilliant person that ever lived, I’ve always tried to out-hustle my competition in order to make my way. As such, I think everything I produce needs to be better than everyone else’s.
Technically, this is true. If I produce mediocre work, it’ll be neither appreciated nor remembered. My job is to create marketing that connects with customers, earns trust and permission, and is both engaging and converts the right customers into leads for my clients.
“Average work” will not do this job.
But in the realization that “good enough” work is not good enough, I have often taken it too far. I’ve felt that because it’s my client’s brand on the line, I was just one mistake away from embarrassing failure. Therefore, I’ve literally spent years trying to not make a mistake.
Everything had to be perfect.
Part of this was of my own making, and part of this was working with some of the wrong clients, who were “perfectionists.” This is what I’ve learned. Hopefully my journey can shave years off of your path to momentous progress.
The Illusion of Perfect
You want to be perfect? Perfect in the eyes of whom?
If you ask yourself, your customer, your friends, or your spouse how to be perfect; you’ll receive a different set of instructions from each. It’s probably a friend or spouse who will answer closest to what, I believe, is the right answer.
Being perfect is being your uninhibited authentic self. It’s when you’re being you in a way that you and those that matter to you are proud of. For me, it’s daily visible progress towards my goals, while managing my top priorities, and enjoying life to the fullest.
Pursuit of Perfection
The pursuit of perfection is a disease.
Superman was rendered weak and useless when exposed to kryptonite. Does your quest perfection do the same to you? It does for me. In my first decade as an entrepreneur, the pursuit of perfection, combined with indecision, has been the largest contributors to my lack of performance.
Perfect vs. Production
Things changed for me when I shifted my focus from perfection to production.
If you want a way to judge the value of your work, why not judge the value of your production rather than its approximation to “perfection?” It’s a far more accurate success metric than trying to subjectively measure which parts of that work may have been perfect.
Again I ask the question, “perfect” in the eyes of whom?
A Process for “Perfection”
In 2012 when I really started studying the lean methodology, I began to reevaluate what perfect even meant. Perfect became investments of energy, which achieved the desired results.
Towards the end of achieving this result, I started focusing on a process for everything we produce. From consulting on company re-brands to something as small as a blog post, we’re at our best when we conform to a process that drives efficient and effective production.
As an agency we no longer strive for perfect. Instead, we strive to work on the right problems in the right order, investing in the activities that will produce the desired outcomes.
Rapid Learning is Key
One thing I’ve really struggled with is getting lost in the details. After all, it’s basically impossible to know what’s great and what’s not until you put it out to the market. This is where I learned that something is “perfect” when it’s ready to launch to a small group of customers in order to find out whether it’s working and how to improve it.
Working on the web, I have the luxury of being able to revise almost anything I produce. So “perfect,” in my line of work, is really the smallest possible solution that enables me to find out if I’m making progress.
An example of publishing something small to build something great:
My largest and highest budget project in twelve years launched as a 4 page website in less than 30 days. We launched the smallest version of the website that would enable us to gather evidence validating that we were on the right track.
Launching smaller and sooner enabled us to start engaging customers faster, learning from their questions, and ultimately produce a better product. We continued to make small releases and improvements until we completed the website a few months later.
Learning quickly is far more valuable than locking yourself away in your office in pursuit of “perfection.” This has really changed our habits and our results.
Production as a Habit
I still drive self worth from my work. I want it to be really good. But in order to be “perfect” (as defined by making investments in energy that achieve the desired result), I really had to work on exponentially increasing my production. I needed to do more in less time, publish work more quickly, and not get lost in the details. A process-driven system for key activities was one aspect of my personal growth, as well as a conscious effort to convince my subconscious that perfection was less important than production. I do that by posting the following quotes in my office:
Bite Sized Remedies for Perfectionists:
The following quotes remind me of what to focus on. They’re all from one of my top mentors, Seth Godin.
“Waiting for perfect is never as smart as making progress.” – Seth Godin [tweet this]
“Of course, it’s not done. It’s never done. That’s not the right question. The question is: when is it good enough?” – Seth Godin [tweet this]
“Make a decision. It doesn’t have to be a wise decision or a perfect one. Just make one.” Seth Godin [tweet this]
“Go. Make something happen.” – Seth Godin. [tweet this]