Last Thursday, I presented on linking blogs to business strategy at Kansas City’s Central Exchange. While discussing editing blog posts, one potential blogger asked about overcoming the problem of perfectionism when writing. I rather flippantly answered psychological help might be in order.

While trying to be funny, the answer wasn’t completely facetious. I love when things happen exactly on strategy. Through years of observation, however, I’ve come to realize very few mistakes mean even a “figurative” end to the world. Why drive yourself crazy trying to solve every little issue.

This realization began in earnest early in my career, when another person and I were working on a matrix comparing our company to major competitors. It was an arduous project, with many revisions and lots of eyes (including eyes senior to ours) reviewing various drafts. It was eventually published for several thousand sales and management people in the company.

Everything was fine until I received a call from someone who pointed out our company’s goal of “reducing customer exceptions” was mistakenly printed as “reducing customer expectations.” Figuring we were both fired, my co-worker and I went to our boss and informed her of the mistake.

We didn’t get fired. In fact, no one else ever came forward as even noticing the problem.

Despite lots of effort to avoid them, mistakes happen all the time in life. Not that I condone poor performance, but don’t waste your time seeking needless (and often self-defined, not customer-defined) perfection or losing your temper when mistakes do happen. You’ll be much more content and better off if you use a different strategy.

When mistakes occur around you, look hard for what’s actually better because of the mistake than what was originally planned.

In the case of the “lower customer expectations” gaffe, what was better was it made me a more careful editor. Does that mean I’m a perfectionist in writing. Not necessarily. It means I’ve learned and developed a whole repertoire of techniques for overcoming proofreading problems.

For you other perfectionists out there, what strategy do you employ to protect yourself from the tendency to be too correct?  – Mike Brown

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Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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10 Responses to “Perfection Isn’t Something to Strive For”

  1. Zoe Eadie says:

    When mistakes happen, rather than replying “I’m sorry” the phrase “Thank you for your patience” is an alternative. Provide concrete information on the status of a situation. Customers want to know a status (whether good or bad) and do not want to wait and not know.

    • Mike Brown says:

      Hey Zoe – Your comment is a great reminder. Resaerch suggests the strongest customer relationships often come from a company going above and beyond in fixing a problem. It’s an opportunity to create deeper ties than simply performing a service well all the time. Not to recommend screwing up and fixining things to win customers, but it does reinforce the importance of having service recovery processes in place. BTW – Your new company was fortunate to get such an outstanding person on the team! Mike

  2. Pam Hausner says:

    I try to use excellence as my goal, rather than perfectionism. It keeps me reaching higher while still anchored in realism.

    Thanks, Mike, for your encouraging session at the Central Exchange.

    • Mike Brown says:

      Pam – Thanks for coming to the blogging session. It was great to meet in person! The idea of excellence as a goal is a really good one. It certainly keeps your goals lofty but allows some room to be human at the same time! Mike

  3. Well stated Mike and a worthwhile reminder that seeking perfection for its own sake can instead become wasteful nitpicking. If you learn from the mistake, then the mistake has had a purpose. Being imperfect drives better results next time. I have witnessed burned out employees, and frustration over a nearly (or actually missed) deadline all for the sake of perfection, but rarely has there been a make or break in the corrections being perfected. I even include myself in this equation.

    There’s an old saying “…good enough for TV” which was a smear at how low fidelity TV was vs. film. As TV got closer and closer to HD, what used to pass had become more “critical”. However, as even lower constraints are placed on internet video, which is becoming more commonplace, it has been increasingly proven that the content is what is most important. If you can produce a compelling story, the rest of the details that used to be sweated over for hours have become moot.

    Lesson? Concentrate on what is MOST important to your delivery. Make THAT as communicative as possible and deal with the rest of the supporting material in a more reasonable manner befitting of its position in the overall picture. I always say to go for the “plus” to make it better, NOT the perfection.

    • Mike Brown says:

      Great thoughts Darin!

      Your point about internet video standards is an interesting one. Amid refinement in so many areas, our tolerance for poor performance (lower quality video to allow streaming, small screen sizes, poor cell phone connections) seems to be, if not increasing, at least more of a reality to communication.

      Really like the idea of the “plus to make it better,” not perfect.

      Thanks again for adding to the conversation!


  4. Jess Ostroff says:

    Hi Mike! Thanks for pointing me to this. I’ve never been a perfectionist, I more worry about letting other people down, which is why I end up beating myself up over mistakes. Sometimes I just have to remind myself that no one is going to live or die because of something on Twitter or even an editing mistake like that. It’s just hard remembering that sometimes!

    • Mike Brown says:

      Thanks so much for commenting Jess. I definitely think the perspective to not sweat the small stuff can come with more and more experience. As you see more things that seem big, but turn out to be nothing, it’s easier to cut through the hype early on. That’s not to say some people don’t have this skill at a young age. For me though, it’s taken a long time to get there, and it’s still a work in progress!



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