Perfectionists Are Not Entrepreneurs
By Tony Goodwin
Isn’t it annoying when you often hear people say ‘I am a little bit of a perfectionist, really’ (usually accompanied by a smug, self-satisfied, self-congratulatory, knowing, conspiratorial smile) as if it’s a declaration of some kind of key to a super-human power that they hold. Every time I hear this I want to comment something like ‘if you tried hard every day you might be able to get over it’ or ‘well I hope it doesn’t hold you back in life’. Perfection for me should be viewed as a fault not an attribute especially in the entrepreneurial world.
The pursuit of perfection is akin to the pursuit of failure, because there’s no such a thing as perfect life or business. As an entrepreneur I revel in and celebrate chaos and uncertainty, because along with randomness comes bags loads of opportunities. Longing for the perfect anything usually induces unnecessary tension, stress, dissatisfaction and unhappiness on a long-term basis.
Polly Toynbee, writer, broadcaster and politician, once told us in an Intelligence Squared debate in the Royal Geographical Society that the perfect life exists only on the magazine covers that tout and exploit this human weakness, frailty and craving for perfection. Thus making the vast majority of the middle class population extremely dissatisfied and unhappy with their lives. This relentless pursuit of perfect lives is stir crazy when seen from the point of view of the thousands of migrants risking their lives crossing the Mediterranean in little more than bath tubs costing all their worldly possession & savings. Well to them our lives are already wonderful.
I’ve long held the view that if you can get 70-80% of satisfaction, achievement or enjoyment out of any experience in life you are doing very well indeed.
Take for example the designer Tom Ford, who’s well documented perfectionism verges on a mental affliction (OCD) with which he battles constantly. Turning this very imperfect character trait into a business is genius I have to say, but let’s us call it what it is a weakness not a strength.
Perfectionism is an absolute must in many professions such as pilots, engineers, doctors, scientists, researchers, food sellers, designers and others. But all of these people are not entrepreneurs. Business owners don’t have the patience with process, proceed, administration, but nevertheless they recognise its importance in growing a business. That’s why they team up or pay experts to perfect their product offering.
For an entrepreneur the emphasis in life is on progress not perfection. That is why we hate sitting in meetings that last longer than 15 or 20 minutes, or abhor conference calls with dozens of attendees that drag on for hours. Entrepreneurs get on with and just do it. The best way to kill an entrepreneurial idea is taking it to a meeting.
One of life’s great pleasure’s is nature, but this is not perfect and manicured, it’s chaotic and unpredictable for the animals and plants at its mercy. I am lucky to have a good size garden and when I asked an expert from Buckinghamshire wildlife trust how best to encourage the natural beauty of it, he said do as little to it as possible, take note you manic garden manicurists, you are destroying natural beauty with your quest for perfect symmetry.
Most entrepreneurs are not perfectionists although they may gravity towards this sad state of mind as a result of success and old age. In order to keep creative juices flowing in a productive and energised way, I recommend to go back to your roots of chaos and mayhem… who gives a damn about perfectionism anyway.
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