“I'm not perfect. Never have been. Never will be.” - Louis Tomlinson
Steve Jobs’s defining quality was perfectionism. The early days of Apple saw the development of the Macintosh take more than 3 years due to Jobs’s obsession with detail. In many ways, this mindset was Job’s legacy that set Apple apart from their competitors. However, trying to replicate a similar mindset may not be appropriate for you. Should you also always aim for perfection or are there times when near enough is just perfect?
There’s a trade-off with time and cost to aiming for perfection. It’s ok if we have unlimited time and dollars available, but the reality is we often don’t. It’s here when perfection can get in the way of realising intended results. This is apparent at work and in life. I experienced this the day I went for my motorbike licence.
I grew up on a farm. I was 8 years old when my brother and I got our first minibike. When I was in my late 20’s I decided to get my motorbike licence. While I’d been riding for about 20 years, I’d only done so on farms or recreational areas and wanted to learn how to ride safely on the roads. I enrolled in a 2 day course at the Honda Australia Rider Training that would culminate in a license test on Day 2.
The course included lots of hands-on riding going through various manoeuvres. I was quite competent at it and I should have been as I’d essentially grown up riding motorbikes. On Day 2 we had more practice and then I patiently waited until my name was called out when it came time for me to do the riding test part of the licence.
Part of the test included checking reaction time where you had to either swerve left, right or stop suddenly depending on which option the license tester applied to your test. A guy called Bill was testing before me and he was going quite well until he got to this stage. Bill braked too suddenly and straight over the handlebars he went which resulted in an instant failure.
Now it’s my turn and my mindset changed from feeling confident to not wanting to make a mistake. I cautiously started riding and completed the test but to my disappointment, I failed because I was too slow. Too slow!!!
My aim for perfection caused me to go away from how I was riding naturally. It was almost like there was a different rider on the bike. My instructor (John) was almost more aghast than I was. John said: “What happened? You looked like you were aiming for the perfect score instead of just riding as you had for the previous 2 days.” It was a bit of a dent to my pride, but I went for my licence the following week and passed it easily.
It ended up being a life lesson I learnt the day I failed my motorbike licence. The experience made me realise that while aiming for perfection has a place, it isn’t always necessary as excellence can be a better option for me to show up as the best version of myself.
Studies, unfortunately, indicate our desire for perfectionism is increasing. I say unfortunately because it’s not an aspirational trait when it becomes counterproductive. In the workplace, many workers struggle to achieve results and cope with their workload demands by wasting too much energy and time trying to be perfect. Two warning signs to look out for are:
When procrastination masquerades as perfectionism – making progress and meeting deadlines are better most of the time than waiting to be perfect
Understanding the actions that waste time – why try to be 100% perfect when 80% or 90% ready is more than enough.
You’ll need to be the judge of your situation, but you might find you’ll get more done and achieve better outcomes when you understand where you don’t have to be perfect.
I’d love to hear your thoughts.