The Truth About Perfection

By Ann
August 29, 2010
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Striving for excellence motivates you; striving for perfection is demoralizing.
Harriet Braiker

Perfection stalls or derails good ideas. Profits and productivity suffer when good ideas bog down in pursuit of perfection. Are you spending your resources pursuing perfection? Have you lost sight of excellence in the big scheme of things?

If money and time are no object, endless changes, modifications and do-overs may not be an issue. If time and money matter, you may not be able to afford them in your business.

Renowned American photographer, Annie Leibovitz, is in a tough spot. In New York Magazine (August 16, 2009), Andrew Goldman writes, “From the start, Leibovitz’s perfectionism led her to pay little or no attention to budget restrictions….” In her work for Rolling Stones, Vanity Fair, Vogue and others, Goldman describes her personal and professional excesses in “How Could This Happen to Annie Leibovitz?” She is $24 million in debt. Unless she meets the terms of the consolidated loan, she stands to lose the rights to a lifetime of brilliant photography.

Hallmarks of Perfection:

• Project creep expands the scope of projects

• Costs escalate and budgets explode

• Relentless changes are exhausting especially to your team

• Time lines are impossible to meet

• Efficiency and productivity suffer (see Smart Lazy Tactics )

• Sight of the big picture is lost

Eventually you may end up with a “perfect” product. Well, perhaps. At what cost? Who defines perfect?

As a “recovering perfectionist”, I am familiar with the exorbitant cost of perfection. My alcoholic mother convinced me that her drinking was my responsibility, not hers. As a child, I did everything possible to stop the dysfunction, chaos and pain. Of course, nothing I did was ever enough. She needed a reason to justify her drinking.

In a sudden blazing insight as an adult, I understood my striving for perfection. I also knew I could change my way of thinking. Fear of what others will think or trying to meet impossible demands is a massive energy drain. Working and living from my values, love and passion is an energizing platform for excellence. It’s an inside job.

What You Can Do Now:

• Use the six criteria above to assess your perfection profile

• Take comfort that the condition is rarely fatal but is a serious form of self-abuse

• Ask “How is being a perfectionist serving me?”

• Engage in one activity each week just for fun and just for you

• Recognize that 99.44% people do not see the nuances of perfection that drive you

• Remember that your customers and clients expect excellence, communication and service, not perfection

• Work within reasonable budgets and time lines to create or complete a project

• Accept excellence as a standard for your work

• Be willing to declare something done and move on—confidently

After years of talking about writing a newsletter, I made the decision to do it. I wanted it to be you-know-what. This was overwhelming. In addition, what did I know about online publishing?

In 2006 in a keynote speech, I boldly offered to send the newsletter to the audience of about 150 people. They could subscribe by giving me their name and email address. Immediately I confessed that I had never published a newsletter but did promise that they would receive the inaugural edition. By risking imperfection, “The Leadership Strategist” was born.

Occasionally I have a relapse. I gently remind myself that the newsletter does not have to be perfect. It does have to provide value to you. Excellence is good enough.

© 2010 Ann Elliott All Rights Reserved

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