This attitude hinders you to achieve perfection

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Written by B

This attitude hinders you to achieve perfection

When was the last time you were really satisfied with your work? Or your body? Or any other result you had worked on? If you ask me, that is a long time ago. I bet I am not the only one. Maybe somewhere around the kindergarten times was the last time I could work on something without any pressure or expectations. At least I try to maintain the illusion that I was not such a perfectionist back then. Although, there is not much hope in me, as the size of the „objective“ importance of a project does not matter how much we strive for perfectionism. It is more about the „subjective“ importance and the individual decision to make this a project we want to perform perfectly. 

However, the majority of our projects is too big and too complex to work on them in-depth and in detail and finish them in the way we would want to finish them. Mostly, deadlines decide when we are finished and not our own standards of perfectionism. When there is no deadline we tend to delay and maybe never finish the project. Kafka ordered his friend to destroy all of his unfinished works after he died. However, his will was not fulfilled and his friend even published the works. For that reason, we have today many of the most amazing works by Kafka, such as Der Prozess, Das Schloss or Amerika/der Verschollene.

Practice - Only practice makes you perfect

Lately, I read a little story that made me think about our striving for perfectionism.

A pottery teacher announced to his class that he would grade half of the class based on the „quantity“ of their work and the other half on the „quality“ of their work. On the final day, he would weigh all the objects that the first group. The members of the second group only had to produce one pot, which needed to be perfect to get an „A“. Interestingly, the pots with the highest quality were made by members of the „quantity“ group. The explanation was quite simple: While the quantity group started to work on projects the second group only theorized about the perfect object.

This little story shows, how important it is get started. Your idea about perfectionism should never hinder you to practice. There is this common idea that about 10.000 hours of work are needed to achieve excellence in a certain field. Imagine you would dedicate about 4 hours a day to a certain skill you would like to achieve. If you would work on that skill every day. After a year you had worked on it about 1500 hours. It would take about 7 years to accumulate the 10.000 hours. If you would work on it constantly every day. That is a very long time.


Get Feedback - Go live with unfinished work as a new way to create and innovate

So, when we have to accept a trial and error process, we should try to fail smartly. You should reflect on your failures and try to organize your learning in an optimal way. Lately, the process of Design Thinking has been discussed and used to innovate and find solutions for problems. This procedure gives a special emphasis on prototyping and trying things out. You go live with solutions which are not perfect or finished, but you want to get responses from the market and adapt your solution. You follow an interactive process of understanding the problem and the needs and attitudes of the parties involved, you observe, then you synthesize it, start prototyping and implement it. During the process, you skip back and forth to the individual stages. This strategy has been hyped as one of the most successful paths to problem-solving.


Good is good enough - Learn to embrace satisficing solutions

But people will only love my work when it is perfect! You or your ego might throw in. But how often have you seen mediocre works be successful? I remember countless books, I have bought because they were on a bestseller list, being disappointingly lame, for example. So, obviously, you don’t need a perfectly written book to be successful. For a simple reason: People don’t make rational decisions. The don’t overlook the whole book market for example and then choose the best-written book from all possible options. They will choose an option which is satisfying and suffices their needs. They will choose „satisficing“ solutions. This concept was proposed by Herbert Simon, who won for that idea even a Nobel Price in Economics.

Don’t get me wrong: I am not an advocate for mediocre work. I think we should try our best and give the most we are able to give - within our limits. Once too much perfectionism is destructive, makes us ill or hinders us to finish our work, we should re-think our attitudes.

Why don’t you allow yourself to do satisficing work? Which is a trait many of the very successful people share? They don’t strive for perfectionism but are fine with an 80% solution instead of doing nothing.

Published on Wednesday 15th July 2020

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