Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good

When I worked in corporate finance (a long time ago), we used the philosophy of “measure twice and cut once” as a way to make sure we were careful and thoughtful about our work. It always reminded us to double-check and to get it right the first time.It was useful and meaningful, and became part of the culture we were working in at the time. I also think it helped us grow into careful workers.I have heard myself offer this proverb to others as a way of illustrating that “we can’t be too careful.” However, there is a negative side to being too careful, too perfect, too deliberate that may hold us back in certain situations.If you are reading this and think I am dead wrong, you may be a perfectionist and take great pride in doing your very best most of the time. But perfectionism is a state of being, not a process. Getting something close to “perfect,” if there is such a thing, can take more than one approach.When we say “measure twice and cut once,” we are talking about things that you don’t have the chance to go back and do over, like brain surgery or skydiving. The risks associated with tasks, like writing a newsletter, designing the perfect event or doing a strategic plan are small. The risk is small because all of these things require interaction with the greater environment.Writing a newsletter well depends on getting feedback about what you have done, and then going back and making adjustments. Writing a strategic plan is a process of discovery, which will never really come true, so by its very nature it is not perfect.The not-perfect worldIn our effort to be perfect workers, professional executives, and successful people, we sometimes find ourselves spending more time stressing, drafting and delaying what can be done right now. Our fear is that “professional” people will perceive us as, well, less than perfect.However, as we delay we are wasting time and not interacting and discovering where we need to be. The important reality is that no matter how “perfectly” you do something, someone will not like it, or you. Likewise, if you do something at an 80 percent level, some people will love what you do.There is another side to being good (not perfect) that is critically important to professionals and entrepreneurs, and that is freedom.If we are trying to be perfect we are likely doing so for someone else, and thereby we are not being creatively and authentically free as leaders with our talents. Again, I don’t want my surgeon or accountant to be too creative, but I do want them to relax and do what they do best. If they are trying to be perfect can they really do their best?I do want my strategist and newsletter designer to be creative and reach into the not-perfect world. When we stop trying to be perfect, we start interacting and engaging, and we start to act. We start being good. Don’t get me wrong, I like perfect like the rest of us, I just know that I can’t make perfect the enemy of good.If you notice you have been indecisive about things, some work is piling up for your review, or that you are constantly stressing about a task or project, consider how you are approaching these items.First consider the risk associated with the task. If it is critical, give it the full attention it needs. If it is not critical, allow some creative licenses for yourself or delegate it to others and give the license. Use it as part of a learning and listening process.Be honest about where you are with a version of something. If you’re stressing about an approach or audience expectation, call them and be direct. Go to the meeting with it 80 percent done and ask the team to help perfect it.Success is a team sport, not you stressing in your office about what someone else is expecting.Don’t be bullied by perfect people. The truth is that perfectionism is a pathology, and we can never ever please perfect people, even if they’re not perfect.Dr. Russ Ouellette, managing partner of Sojourn Partners, Bedford and creator of The Future of Everything Project, can be reached at 603-472-8103 or project participants on this topic included Heather Ramsey, partner at Sojourn AllCoach.