Perfect and excellent are not synonymous. Neither are success and perfect the same. LSU became national college football champions, a hallmark of both excellence and success, with a two-loss season (far from perfect). Both of the University of Florida’s national college football championships and its recent back-to-back national basketball championships, involved “non-perfect” seasons.
While I am a passionate advocate of continuous learning and improvement, and “another level higher” is my rallying cry, I am acutely aware of the potential energy-draining nature of perfectionism. Given the limited resources with which we’re all confronted, a relentless pursuit of perfection can divert focus from other areas where improvement may be needed more or obtained with an expenditure of fewer resources. There have been times when I suspected that an individual was pursuing perfection in one area just so she could ignore something else, or some other area of her life or responsibility, or to avoid having to step back and view the broader picture.
In our rapidly evolving world, flexibility, creativity, and adaptability are key skills that require a high comfort level with ambiguity and experimentation. Perfectionism is the antithesis of ambiguity and all too often drives rigid behavior and creates a stagnant culture. A mantra of avoiding mistakes at all costs constricts creativity, and an obsessive focus on avoiding failure leads to doubt and dejection.
Look at anything closely enough or long enough and you can find something “wrong” if you so choose. Heck, put the world’s sharpest razor blade under a microscope and a blunt, pitted mess emerges. Live with it.
My home is not always perfectly neat and clean (I’ve both a toddler and an artistic former ballerina for a wife), but it is a happy home filled with love. To me, that is a wonderful kind of perfect.
When we demand perfection, in effect we are demanding to be lied to. Show me a company with a perfectly smooth upward earnings graph and I will show you a company managing its earnings. When we require our leaders to be paragons of 360-degree perfection, in effect we are asking them to don masks and to deny their basic humanity.
I’ve learned that the price of progress, of moving forward into the unknown, requires that I temper and control my desire for perfection. Progress is dearer to me by far than perfection. If I must prioritize one, it is progress.