Recently, during homework hour in our home, my 8 year old said, “practice makes perfect.” I stopped in my tracks, wondering where this suggestion had come from. Perfect, is not a word used in our home as it is an unhealthy expectation. My son’s “perfect” mantra came from his third grade classroom. Sure enough, at back-to-school night one week later, I saw the “practice makes perfect” poster hanging prominently on the wall. Perfect is dangerous. Perfect is a myth.
The message of perfection begins in youth and is found in a variety of influences such as media, education, parenting, culture, innate personality temperament, with a pervasive reach extending through adulthood. My business coaching clients have talked about the desire for perfection or the lament that “I can’t make it perfect.” Why does the conversation about perfect matter? Defined by Webster’s dictionary as “being entirely without fault or defect,” is why the conversation matters.
How does the notion of perfect impact your business?
1. Unrealistic Expectations. How do you set expectations in your business, with your team, with yourself? Unrealistic expectations of perfection promote paralysis, limited thinking, and an unengaged, demoralized, fearful culture.
2. Unmet Perfection = Failure. If perfect is the expectation, how do we measure or recognize anything less than?
3. Perfect Promotes Paralysis. If your employees know that perfection is the expected result and yet clearly that isn’t attainable, how much time and productivity will be wasted in paralysis?
Throughout my life the destructive impact of perfection has been clearly present. In business…website must be perfect in content, aesthetics, usability. Reality…there isn’t a website utopia where a website’s reach is perfect. In career…triple check the communication before pressing send. Reality…every so often a communication will be disseminated with a typo or absent an overlooked detail. In health…a full hour for running or forget it. Reality…time today permits only 20 minutes for a run but those 20 minutes are better for mind, body, and soul than no minutes at all.
We have all heard Alexander Pope’s quote, “To err is to be human”. We are flawed by nature and beautifully so. Expecting perfection from our work and life (extensions of our imperfect selves) is illogical. Many of the richest, most valuable learning experiences and opportunities, come from our mistakes.
There are 3 keys to managing the myth of perfection.
1. Decide. Decide what in your business must be a 10 because the stakes are high, and what can simply be a 7 – where is good enough…enough? Set expectations accordingly.
2. Mindset. Accept and appreciate that mistakes will happen as a part of creativity, action and progress.
3. Act. Keep moving and don’t stop for perfect. Have confidence that you will resolve and learn from mistakes along the way. Don’t pass by new thinking because you can’t guarantee perfection.
Many may interpret this post as license to accept poor work quality, make all types of mistakes without consequence, and act rashly. If this is you, ask yourself how tightly you are holding on to a construct of perfection that no longer serves you and is coming with a cost that you’ve overlooked until this moment. It is simply an encouragement to replace perfect with striving for skill, perseverance, and resilience, in service of your effectiveness as an individual. Perfect is an antagonist in your business, in your life. Perfect is dangerous. Perfect is a myth.