Al Levi: Demanding vs. pursuing perfection
I think Lexus got it right when it coined the phrase “relentless pursuit of perfection.”
I think pursuing perfection can be a healthy thing. I know that demanding perfection of yourself and others is not a good thing at all.
How do I know that? I lived a life demanding perfection for too long in my own life and my own business career.
Demanding perfection can paralyze you. This is because nothing can ever be done well enough for you. The evil temptation then becomes to never do anything new or create programs that never get off the ground. The company slowly strangles itself. And the only ideas deemed worthy are from the perfectionist so it stifles the staff and the company once again.
The staff becomes disinterested in taking any initiative if you’re an uncompromising perfectionist. Why bother if taking initiative only gets you grief? Whatever they suggest or do will be seen as “half-baked” and never good enough to please you.
The worse trap is that you begin to believe that only you can do things the right way, so delegating and engaging your employees in problem solving is never an option. And the myth continues to grow.
What does demanding perfection do to you? It can become isolating. It can wreck your health and destroy your business — all the opposite of what you probably desired when you latched on to the concept that only perfection will do. In extreme cases where the demon of perfectionism goes unchecked, it can cost you your life.
Know that it can be a wide spectrum of demanding perfection. Sometimes it’s small and sometimes it’s all-consuming. Know, too, that a little bit of perfectionism rarely stays small. It grows like a cancer if unchecked.
A rampant form of destructive perfectionism is procrastination. The need to stall everything has at its core the unwillingness to do anything new or start a new project or program because you feel it’s never perfect enough — it just needs more time. And that time never seems to arrive because perfection can never be achieved. It’s a mirage. It’s never going to be perfect from the start and it’s never going to stay perfect forever.
When I realized the damage I was doing to myself, coworkers and company, here’s what I learned to say: “Good enough for today. We’ll make it better tomorrow.”
What a relief.
Here’s what I learned to do instead:
- Brainstorm ideas with the team;
- Work through the best of the ideas together;
- Create a step-by-step plan for each good idea;
- Create measurable goals and milestones along the way so we know when to make adjustments; and
- Have a timeline for when it gets released.
If you don’t do this, I promise your projects will never get off the ground and you’ll awake to the same things that plagued you and your company yesterday. And you’ll be facing that same thing tomorrow.
Interestingly enough, many of my new clients are afflicted with the perfectionism disease. The curious thing about that is things tend to be anything but perfect at their companies, which is why they are asking for my help — they know it’s broken and needs fixing. The tough thing is that they, as the owner, need fixing if they allow the ‘perfection monster’ to continue to rule their companies.
Once you move from demanding perfection to pursuing perfection, your company can become a fun and productive place to work. You and everyone who works for you will be a lot healthier for it.
At the companies I’ve worked for over time, I have witnessed staff members who were chain smokers and overweight take control of these bad habits and live a healthier life. That’s because the stress and tension of perfectionism has abated. They become less hard on themselves and actually gain the control they always demanded but that eluded them.
Pursuing perfection versus demanding perfection doesn’t mean you have to drop your standards. It means you can raise your standards by doing it in a more rational way that includes doable, small and consistent steps that move you toward your objective goals for both your business and yourself.