Posts Tagged ‘perfection’

Striving For Perfection

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

More than once in my life I’ve been accused of being too much of a perfectionist, and of having unrealistically high standards. I’ve always followed the saying, “Perfection may be impossible to achieve, but striving for it is not.”

Vince Lombardi said, “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.”

I still believe that it’s best to strive for the highest standard you can, to make things the best you possibly can. Strive for perfection. But… there comes a time when you have to balance this pursuit for perfection with reality.

Imagine that your job is to produce the company’s annual financial plan. You work on it daily, for months. You talk to co-workers, you hold meetings, you send drafts to others for input, you facilitate planning sessions, you write, you brainstorm, you collect ideas, you do research, you… You never finish it. And what good is a plan that is never completed, never communicated and never executed?

Or, you’re in a dance group. Your group has a performance in three weeks and you’ve just started to learn a new dance – one that you’re going to perform at the performance. You practice it individually, and as a group. You rehearse, and then you rehearse some more. You and your fellow dancers want to perform it perfectly. You get to the point where you’re able to perform this dance perfectly in rehearsal. Then comes the performance, in front of thousands of people, and the musicians are different than the ones you rehearsed with. And they don’t play the way you rehearsed. They don’t play “perfectly.”

Perhaps, instead of practicing perfection, your dance group should have practiced how to handle things when they “go wrong”?

When a group of musicians are jamming, how does anyone know if they’ve made a mistake or not? How do you know if they’re perfect or not? You don’t. In fact, their small errors lead to the magic of the jamming, the improvisation. They perfectly improvise.

Should we strive for perfection, or should we practice improvising? Should we strive for something as close as we can get to perfection, then jump in and execute, learn from that, adapt and improvise, and make the very best of it? When you think of every superstar, no matter what the activity, from sports to music, from business to art, it’s their ability to improvise and adapt that makes them what they are.

And you can bet that they’re not judging themselves in the moment, criticizing themselves for not being perfect. No, in the moment they’re doing just one thing: Performing, executing, doing.

I love the line from one of Leonard Cohen songs: “Forget your perfect offering. There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

Executing or performing a less-than-perfect plan or activity is usually much better than not doing it all because you’re still striving to make it perfect.

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