Last month I read Lean In, written by Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg. There’s one particular story in Chapter 9 that struck me a chord with me, and I’m writing this post to explore the concept even further. It starts with the phrase, “Perfection is the enemy.”
Dr. Laurie Glimcher, Dean of Weill Cornell Medical College said the key for her when pursuing her career while raising children was to learn where to focus her attention. Dr. Glimcher also states “Be a perfectionist in only the things that matter – mundane and administrative tasks could be considered done enough at 95%.”
This got me thinking, what matters and what doesn’t? Where can we focus our efforts so that “done enough” is done? And is perfection holding us back?
At first, I was a little hesitant to write this post, I couldn’t clarify my angle. I thought that no matter how I said it, my approach would come off as brash and something along the lines of “At CopyPress, we don’t care if it’s perfect, as long as it is done the client will be satisfied.”
Disclaimer: That’s not at all what it’s like, at CopyPress the customer always comes first and we will consistently have a focus on quality above profits.
I’m a perfectionist (or at least I try), and so my thoughts usually consist of:
- Anything less than perfection is a failure.
- I should never make mistakes.
- I should always be able to predict problems before they occur.
Which translates to this sort of behavior:
- Paralysis by analysis: excessive checking, agonizing over small details, being overly cautious and thorough in tasks
- Making elaborate to-do lists: brush teeth, shower, bath the cat, bath the fish, etc.
While, perfectionism isn’t all bad, it certainly has its inefficiencies. I was even hesitant to write this post because it might not be perfect, because maybe I am not the authority on this matter.
Done Done or Done?
I spoke with a manager on our production team, airing my concerns before I jumped into a concept for an article that might be misconstrued. She paraphrased it for me:
“Well there’s done, and “done done” meaning, there’s “done bad” and “done good.”
Make sense yet? Allow me to explain further with an example, there’s:
- Half-arsed done – I wrote 1,000 words about cats.
- Best done – I spent some time researching cats, then I wrote 1,000 words on the matter. I cited sources, included links, images, and videos. I re-read my article, checked it for errors and ran spell check to ensure that what the editor saw was my best work.
The first one, while done, will produce perfect very rarely. The second, also done, will yield a far superior product and stand head and shoulders above the first. However, this superior product will not always be perfect, and that’s a brutal fact.
As the production manager and I discussed further she made a very blunt and valid point: not everyone on our team is a cat expert, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t write an excellent cat article that will exceed our client’s needs and expectations.
It’s frustrating and a little tough for me to accept this at times, we work so hard but we’re not perfect, and everything we do isn’t perfect.
The Bigger Picture
In the book Lean In, Sandberg cites the Facebook motto, “Done is better than perfect,” as a mantra to let go of standards that are simply unattainable. To keep myself in check, I’m starting to ask myself these questions:
- Does it really matter?
- What is the absolute worst that could happen?
- If the absolute worst does happen, can I survive it?
- Will this still matter tomorrow? How about next week? Next year?
More often than not, my typical response to these questions is simply “no.” BUT if I were a heart surgeon, fireman, soldier or performed any other occupation where my life were is someone else’s hands then my response be different.
Quite frankly, done (that meets and surpasses standards) but not perfect is okay. We can submit a really awesome cat article to a client without it being the best article ever published. If it is the best that one person can do and that best meets and surpasses our high standards of quality value to the customer then only good things will happen.