The Steep Price of Perfectionism Raising the Barr Weekly Memo: Issue 190

It’s a claim I hear all the time in business: “I’m a perfectionist!” Many people seem to think perfectionism is a virtue, so they proudly admit their obsession with perfection. But the truth about perfectionism is far darker. More often than not, perfectionism in business is simply an excuse for procrastination. It even reflects self-doubt, and lack of belief in one’s own abilities.

In fact, perfectionism is the number one disguise for fear of rejection from others. People drag their feet to release a new product, claiming they want it to be “perfect” before they send it out into the world. Others write entire book manuscripts, but never publish them, stating that the book simply isn’t “good enough” yet. In reality, these aren’t examples of perfectionism. They’re examples of business progress being thwarted by fear of rejection.

This insidious form of perfectionism can paralyze whole companies and halt brilliant people from sharing their knowledge with the world. Here’s my take: If you’re in the business of writing code that controls nuclear facilities, perfectionism might be critical for accuracy. But in any other business, “perfect” should never be the goal.

Whether you provide consulting services or you deliver a product to market, I want you to forget about aiming for perfection. Instead, replace “perfectionism” with “future improvement.” Whatever it is you’re working on, focus on putting it out there, even if you know it could still be improved upon. Deliver today, improve tomorrow. Allow your target audience to give you valuable feedback, and then use it to improve upon your “imperfect” products and offerings down the road.

If you wait until you reach perfection, you’ll not only hurt yourself—you’ll also hurt your target audience. You’re effectively keeping useful knowledge and helpful products out of the hands of those who could benefit from them, all because you’re striving for something unattainable. Get 80% of the way there, and then release your talent for the world to see.

Simply put, perfectionism masks talent. It takes away from sharing your talent with the world. At one point in my own career, I admit that I was somewhat of a perfectionist. But I left perfectionism behind a long, long time ago. I don’t have to be perfect, and neither do you. We can be exceptional at what we do, without sabotaging ourselves in an attempt to seem perfect. After all, no one is.

Striving for perfectionism is a sure way to get nothing done. Instead, focus on getting 80% of the way there—and then release your products and offerings into the world. You’ll reap the rewards immediately.

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