To Be Perfect
I recently stumbled across a popular article in The New York Times titled, “It’s Never Going to be Perfect, So Just Get It Done”.As a self-described perfectionist, this was a particularly alarming idea to me. I consider my work to be a kind of reflection of myself. Quality is important to me, and the idea of just doing it to get it done goes against some of my core values. Now, the author makes the point that when we agonize over small details of our work, trying to make it perfect, we neglect actually getting the work done. I am definitely guilty of second-guessing my decisions or prolonging projects until they feel just right, which can sometimes mean I miss deadlines or frustrate my teammates. He quotes Voltaire, agreeing with his view that, “Perfect is the enemy of good”. He proposes instead that we make Mostly Fine Decisions (M.F.D) or decisions that result in outcomes that are “perfectly acceptable” to us and others.
He signs off with the conclusion that, “Done is better than perfect”. In a very simplistic way, sure. Obviously, tasks need to be completed and deadlines need to be met in order for our organizations to operate. But, I think there is something to be said for striving to do really good work. I really don’t think companies like Apple were built with Mostly Fine Decisions. Not every decision has to be perfect, but there are some that we should want to be pretty darn close. What I struggle with is actually sorting through these decisions effectively. If I spend too much time fussing over the small stuff, then I don’t have that time or focus to put into the big decisions that really matter.
We forget that there are really three dimensions to success: results, process, and relationships. The results are the “what” or the obvious outcomes of our work. The process is the “how” or the methods that we use to achieve our results. And the relationships are the “who” that makes those things happen.
What happens is that we tend to conflate success with results. When Herrera talks about perfectionism, he is really talking about perfect outcomes and results. And with this in mind, I agree with him. If we spend all of our time and energy focused on achieving perfect results, we often don’t give the same care or attention to our process or relationships, which ultimately affects our success. What does that look like?
If we don’t consider our process we forfeit congruency, efficiency, and progress. Thoughts and phrases like, “This is how we’ve always done it” and “We tried it once and it didn’t work” are good examples of this in action. As individuals and teams, we should be examining our structures, procedures, and work flows in order to discover new and innovative ways to reach our goals. We can achieve this with a culture that supports feedback, creativity, and disagreement.
If we don’t prioritize our relationships we can intentionally or unintentionally foster dysfunction in our teams. This may look like a lack of trust, miscommunication, or interpersonal conflict. I think sometimes we forget that relationships take work just like our tasks and projects do. When we take the time to work to develop and maintain healthy working relationships it has a direct effect on quality and productivity.
Personally, I get very caught up in the results and process. I need to remember that including and involving others in my work actually makes the process easier and typically generates better results. When I have the opportunity to brainstorm with others or receive insightful feedback I feel like I do my best work. And it’s in those moments when that desire or pressure to be “perfect” disappears and I just get caught up in the fun of creating, and really good things come of that genuine interest and enjoyment.
Take the time to reflect on the Dimensions of Success model for yourself or with your group:
- What are the results you want to achieve?
- What are the processes that will best help you/
- What do your relationships need to look like?
- And most importantly, what would “success” look like if all of these things happened?
Then, create action steps to help you accomplish what you outlined in each circle. Create a system of accountability with yourself or teammates to check in on progress. Don’t be afraid to make adjustments to this model or your action steps as you go along.
*Meet the Author*
Caelan Cooney is the Program Coordinator for Leadership Inspirations and spends most of her time helping to create meaningful programming and content. She got her start in leadership as a high school DECA student, and went on to graduate from Chapman University with degrees in Business Management and Integrated Education. As a regular contributor to From the Balcony, her favorite topics to explore are personality theory, group development, and conflict management. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, rock climbing, and listening to podcasts.