Perfectly Imperfect

I suffer from this. I am guilty of often investing too much time to make something “perfect”.

I remember the president of a company that had acquired mine years back who was known to often say, “don’t let perfect be the enemy of good”. I used to think, “yes, but our clients pay us substantial sums to be as close to perfect as possible.”

I don’t know about that now.

I wonder now if there are at least three things that perfectionism destroys:

  1. Cohesion. One person’s idea of perfection is certainly not necessarily another person’s idea.
  2. Collaboration. When one person on the team is clearly on a mission to attain perfection, they often do so at the expense or exclusion of others.
  3. Completeness. I remember at McKinsey, the goal was to provide “Mutually Exclusive, Collectively Exhaustive” analysis, which is to say: have we addressed the issue comprehensively? In the search for “one man’s perfection”, if we limit cohesion (Point #1) and inhibit collaboration (Point #2), then it stands to reason that we can’t achieve completeness, doesn’t it?

How then do we draw the line between good and what could be the detrimental effects of perfection?

Do you have an example where the search for perfection was detrimental to the team, project or organization?

Let me know in the comments below. We’re interested in how to define, measure and monitor that very fine line.