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Mastering the Art of Imperfection

November 30, 2010

““If you wait to do everything until you’re sure it’s right, you’ll probably never do much of anything.”

—   Win Borden

With the pace of change these days we are constantly put into one of two positions: pursuing perfection and therefore doing nothing or making decisions with imperfect data and launching products with work still to be done.  While perfection is something we all yearn for it is often not achievable.  My nine month old daughter is the exception, of course.

As a recovering perfectionist I am very familiar with the quest for collecting all possible information before making a decision.  What I have learned over time is that, for most decisions, by the time I have ‘perfect’ data the information is no longer most recent and therefore no longer perfect. It’s like waiting to buy the newest technology.  A never ending cycle which leaves me in a state of collecting information, also known as inaction.  A very costly place to be.  And yet a cost that is rarely calculated and reviewed – how much money is it costing us to try to achieve perfect data, decisions, plans, etc?

The same can be said for launching products.  Now I don’t mean rolling a new product out to the world with known defects however exposing customers in a controlled manner to a less than perfect product can be the most counterintuitive and valuable way to make sure it becomes right.  Really great products are not developed in isolation of customers or potential customers.  The ideas can be formulated, prototypes developed and refined but there comes a point where the best people to get the product right are the very people who will be using it one day.  So get out your iPads and take note of the feedback.

There is a fine balance between moving forward without perfection and slowing down to gather the right amount of information or refining the product.  What’s the right balance?  The only way to find out is by learning through action.  The biggest regrets people live with are not the failures they endure from repercussions of actions but rather all of the opportunities for action that passed them by.

Don’t get me wrong, there are people we definitely want to strive for perfection, a surgeon, for example.  But I’m talking about the people who are too afraid to take the first step without knowing it’s going to be perfect.  My daughter would definitely never learn how to walk, let alone run, if that were the case.  If taking those steps while we are still shaky is how we are hardwired to develop then, why should we be any different now?