“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
– Thomas Edison
When it comes to my work I probably land more towards the perfectionist side of the spectrum.
Of course I’m far from perfect… but I still try to be. Oddly enough, the more I reflect about it the more I realize this attitude is probably more counter-productive than productive.
First, let’s look at a definition of perfectionism. Here’s what we find on Wikipedia.
Perfectionism, in psychology, is a belief that perfection can and should be attained. In its pathological form, perfectionism is a belief that work or output that is anything less than perfect is unacceptable. At such levels, this is considered an unhealthy belief, and psychologists typically refer to such individuals as maladaptive perfectionists.
So, besides being called maladaptive… here are some reasons I think perfectionism can be dangerous.
1. You’re scared to try new things.
A perfectionist may plan and plan and plan the improvement idea, or new business, or new anything… only to find themselves frozen with fear in such a way as to never actually give it a try.
2. You may lose focus of what really matters – long term perfection.
Some of you may have read Dr. James Womack’s good work. If this is the case you probably know his fifth step of lean implementation is to pursue perfection.
So, does this mean he’s saying we should all become short term perfectionists? I don’t think so.
Instead, I think Womack is saying to keep our eyes down field. He’s saying that the “ideal state” we’re all aiming for doesn’t really exist since better is always possible which, in this case, makes it the perfect target for us continuous improvement practitioners.
3. You may just lose your mind.
If nothing but perfection is acceptable you may end up losing your mind. You may read and re-read every email, document, or blog entry hundreds of times only to skip over the fact that you meant to say “morale” and not “moral.” And when someone calls you on it, in front of thousands of others, you may feel like curling up into the fetal position and dying. Of course I’m not speaking from actual experience here or anything.
What to do?
So, if short term perfectionism is bad, what’s a person aiming for long term perfection to do?
Simply put, my advice, and something I’m trying to do myself, is to not worry about short term perfectionism as much as I used to. Instead, I think it’s best to obviously plan and think about things… but once you have some ideas give them a try.
In some cases you’ll fail. So what. Try again and fail better. To be sure, this takes courage. But if people like Thomas Edison didn’t exude this type of courage who knows where we’d be?
So, while it’s a great thing to aim for long term perfection… short term perfectionism, in my opinion, is not the way to get there.
Do you agree?