Resist the Urge to Be Perfect

The reason I often blog about vague or high level concepts is that I continue to notice companies that are violating the laws of common sense. For whatever reason it is, people are constantly going against the grain with what should be obvious. So that’s why sometimes you might read one of my posts and think “Come on, I already know this!” The question I have for you is, “but do you really do what I’m suggesting or do you just know what I am saying?” With that said, let me introduce another common sense topic: perfectionism is stifling your ability to get things done.

Maybe you’re one of the lucky ones… you are more productive than the IBM Blue supercomputer, and you’re able to churn out product all by yourself, while you play the piano upside down on your head, balancing on a round spinning metal chair, singing Paul McCartney songs, and tweeting about it all at the same time. Bravo, I really do admire you. You’re one of the few and you’ve got no reason to read what I’m saying because you already get it. The rest of us have a lot to learn from you, and I hope you’re blogging about it.

It may seem counterintuitive, but being perfect will slow you down. I’ll say this again, just so you realize how important it really is. Being perfect will slow you down.

Whether or not you are a new entrepreneur (but especially if you’re new to running your own business), getting things done is the most important thing you could possibly do. Not just getting anything done, but you need to get the right things done. Figuring out what you should be doing requires that you’ve done some research and tried to do some things already. If you did the wrong things, you’ll know it soon enough, and it’ll serve as additional research for what the right things are.

OK, so you know what the right things to do are; you’ve got a plan. Fantastic. Now you’ve got to get them done. If you spend too much time researching, or too much time creating, then you might very well miss the deadline. When you own a business, you’re usually the boss, so you might not have any hard deadlines. You might have deadlines you’ve set for yourself or your team. But ultimately, you are only accountable to yourself and your investors (if you even have any) for missing them. By not having a firm deadline you might have the urge to perfect your product, since you can afford to slip on your delivery. You want that awe-ing effect when your perfect product is slipped into the hands of your customers. You want your clients to be wowed and shocked and excited.

But that’s wrong! If you try to make a perfect product, a perfect proposal, a perfect birthday cake, or a perfect song, you’re missing out on the opportunity of getting feedback from your clients early on and you might very well miss your “deadline.” Perhaps the cake is perfect, but you’ve missed the party. Perhaps the product meets all your requirements, but a competitor surfaced and stole your market. Perhaps the product still isn’t perfect, but you’ve missed the opportunity to make it happen. I have been there; I get why you want it to be perfect before letting others see it. I have spent years on a product and hundreds of thousands of dollars of my own money trying to make it perfect, only to have never shown it to the public, with the exception of a few people.

Was it worth it? No. Was I trying to be stealthy intentionally, so that my competition wouldn’t know in detail what I was cooking up? Maybe. Should I have released product improvements incrementally so that I wasn’t stuck in a hole if the whole thing flopped upon final release? Abso-fuckin’-lutely.

You need to balance progress with perfection. It’s important to try your hardest to do your best without tying yourself into the product so strongly that you’re worried that when people like or dislike it that they are making judgements of you personally. Having an incomplete or imperfect product is an opportunity for your clients to tell you what’s wrong with it or to tell you what needs improvement. It’s not a reflection upon your abilities or your value in the world, at least, not directly.

If being perfectly forces you to delay, you’re not able to make progress. If you’re unable to make progress, you might very well fail. Get that in your head now, because if you like to fail it might just happen if you try to be perfect. Small, timely improvements are better than occasional, delayed improvements. The duration of your improvements may vary depending on your market or product. For example, it’s expected that NASA takes a long time to make the next Space Shuttle or instrumented space satellite, but that’s because lives are on the line and space is dangerous. Mistakes are detrimental to the success of the program. Therefore they have a budget that allows NASA to be perfect. (This is changing, even for NASA, with the existence of commercial space companies in the private sector, forcing NASA to have smaller cycles with smaller budgets.)

You don’t have the kind of budget NASA does. And that forces you to make small leaps into your market, get feedback, and implement improvements. If you truly embrace the cycle, you’ll iteratively make a product you’re proud of, instead of one big splash.

Resist the urge to be perfect. In the end, you might actually make a product that the market deems perfect. It won’t happen right away, but people will help you build the road to eventually get there. Being perfect isn’t what matters; making things a reality is.

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