Progress Trumps Perfection

Striving for excellence & moving forward is definitely more important than aiming for perfection. The way our world works is that we rarely have enough time to do the many things we want to do – what more if we demand for perfection from ourselves or others. Set your goals, be realistic, set time limits, learn how to deal with criticism and enjoy the process of working towards your goals!

Progress Trumps Perfection by Nan S. Russell

In the late 17th century, Lord Chesterfield, an English writer and politician, wrote to his son, “Whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing well.” Three hundred years later, we still heed this advise from the fourth Earl of Chesterfield. Yet doing it well doesn’t mean doing it perfectly. The 21st century workplace requires more than doing something well.

More accurately, today’s adage should be: “Whatever is worth doing, is worth doing.” That’s the secret people who are winning at working know. It’s action, not inaction, practice not theory, and progress not perfection that builds success, achieves results and actualizes dreams.

After hearing me speak at a professional conference, a young woman sought me out. She was struggling with this concept of progress over perfection and asked for advice. “How do you do it?” she asked. “How do you accept something as finished when you know it could be better?” She proceeded to tell me that she was managing a project that was over budget and nine months past the deadline. Her boss had made his displeasure clear. Yet, she struggled. “If only I had more time to do it right,” she pined.

Here’s the thing. There’s a difference between doing your best under the circumstances, and trying to achieve perfection. As a person who, at times, has perfectionist leanings, I understand doing things well. I know there is always more you can do to make it better, grandeur, niftier; always more to add, augment, or debug; more ideas, more tweaking, more revisions to make it close to the illusionary perfect status. But, I’ve learned in twenty years in management, in order to survive and thrive, progress trumps perfection.

If a toddler didn’t walk until she could walk perfectly; the musician didn’t play until he was accepted by the Philharmonic; or the inventor didn’t invent until she had a multi-million dollar product, we’d think it crazy. And it’s no crazier for us. Whatever our work, we must move it forward to get results. Our work is a work in progress. And so are we.

People who are winning at working test and pilot and risk and even fail sometimes. They evolve a process, an idea or a product bit by bit, laying elements to build a strong foundation. Perfect is not the goal. Results and progress are. As the saying goes, “Better is the enemy of done.”

You see, sometimes the message is more important than the vehicle that delivers it; the idea more important than the packaging, the work-around more important than the ultimate fix to the problem. Sometimes it’s not. But that’s a judgment call.

So unlike many who spend their days trying to make something perfect, people who are winning at working spend their days making progress. Making progress, any progress, fuels their motivation, creativity and energy. It builds their momentum. And it ignites their results. Want to be winning at working? Make progress.

Have an excellent (but not perfect ;)) week ahead!

7 thoughts on “Progress Trumps Perfection

  1. A variation on the same message : )

    “The longer I live, the more I am that ENTHUSIASM is the little recognised secret of success. The difference in actual skill and ability and intelligence between those who succeed and those who fail, is usually neither wide nor striking. But if two workers are nearly equally matched, the one who is enthusiastic will the scales tipped in his favour.And the one of second rate ability with enthusiasm will often outstrip one of first rate ability without enthusiasm” – Frederick Williamson

  2. enthusiasm! – It’s a matter of perception of blessing : )

    actually I sent out this posting as an email last week. Hmm. Maybe I’ll post up what I send out this week via email as well. Maybe.

  3. I’ll take progress any day! I think perfectionism is a neurosis that cripples creativity. Who gets to decide what’s without flaw, anyway? And what’s a flaw?

    So often the hunger for perfection interferes with an appreciation of life itself. I used to work with perfectionists who did nothing but fault find with everyone else’s best effort. It’s ultimately destructive. It amounts to rejection.

    Happy blog your blessings Sunday.

  4. The workaday world taught me perfection is impossible to achieve. I just do my best and be happy with that.

    Glad to see you are back to blogging and I like the new look.

  5. Inspiring as usual, and I have yet to throw away my perfectionism……in gaming XD.

    Even in study I know my limit and try my best and be happy with it.

  6. @Sandy: *chuckles* true that perfectionism is a neurosis. was having a conversation with a friend today. am personally wondering as well to find a good striking balance between getting results VS being overly critical.

    @CyberCelt: workaday world eh 😉 Thanks. To be honest I’m still tweaking around with things I guess on the blog. Not quite satisfied I guess (that’s totally opposing this post ain’t it :P)

    @Neo: Trying to find a good balance & really hope that I’ll be able to keep to my commitment of blogging when I feel like blogging. Comments & discourse do help spur somewhat though =)

    @YungJie: Ooo. Thanks. KEK. I think aiming for perfection in gaming is perfectly a-ok!

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