We live in a society obsessed with perfection, especially when it comes to business.
We take fourteen versions of a selfie to make sure we look the best. We write and rewrite status updates and messages to each other trying to sound witty or smart. We buy clothes that accentuate our best features. And when it comes to our businesses, we want to optimize everything to be as perfect as possible.
This obsession with perfection has leaked its way into almost every facet of our lives.
When someone subscribes to my weekly email newsletter (The Action Army) I used to ask a simple question: What’s the thing you’re struggling with the most right now?
The replies I saw most often were as follows:
- I want to start my own business, but I don’t have the perfect idea yet
- I have a business, but I haven’t perfected the product/service yet
- I feel paralyzed by the amount of choices and wish I had the perfect step-by-step process
There’s one word I keep seeing over and over again: perfect
(And no, I promise I’m not adding it in to craftily round out this article)
How to find the perfect idea
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but there is no such thing as a perfect idea. There are good ideas. There are bad ideas. There are fun ideas. There are stupid ideas. But no idea is ever perfect.
Once you get that idea of perfection out of your head you can start looking at your ideas from a different angle. For me, I look for ideas I can’t get out of my head. Here’s how that works:
Step 1 – When I have an idea, I write a couple of bullet points about it in a journal. I do this as soon as the idea comes to me.
Step 2 – I put the journal (and idea) away for a week. I don’t write anything else about it and I don’t spend any time building a prototype version of it. I just let the idea sit.
Step 3 – If I can’t stop thinking about the idea after a week I take the next steps to pursue it. If I’ve forgotten about the idea or it’s no longer nagging at me, I move on.
Instead of looking for a perfect idea, look for something you simply can’t stop thinking about. Trust your gut and listen for things that feel right. We often dismiss our intuition in our unrealistic pursuit of perfection.
Building the perfect business
Apple is arguably the most perfect* business in the history of the world. They will most likely be the first ever trillion dollar company if they can execute a few of their next big ideas well (carplay, a physical TV, a self-driving car, even bigger iPads, iPhone 7/8/9, etc).
But… Everyone has probably had a less-than-stellar experience with an Apple product. I went through four iMac computers during one year. My iPhone seems to have a power-devouring gremlin living inside the battery. I’ve owned at least twenty Apple products over the years and continue to buy them even though they aren’t perfect. If you’ve owned an Apple device you’ve probably had a problem with it at some time or another.
Apple, as big and well-run as it is, is far from perfect and it’s working out pretty damn well for them. Steve Jobs was a notorious perfectionist, often taking it to utter extremes and becoming abusive and angry towards people who didn’t share his drive. Yet even his dogmatic perfectionism didn’t hold Apple back from launching groundbreaking product after product. Perfectionism can help you on your journey towards making the best product you possibly can, but you can’t lose sight of the end goal: building something people want and can use. Had Jobs waited until every single aspect of every single product was ‘perfect’ we never would have had the iPod or iPhone. Instead, the ideas came, the products were built, and the issues were dealt with in future versions.
You will never have a perfect business
You will never be able to have everything work perfectly. There will always be some issue, problem, or battery-consuming-gremlin. It happens to us all. Accept it and focus on the things you can control: creating a quality product, having amazing customer service, and focusing on making your customers more awesome.
*Taking a leap of faith that we agree that the majority of people would define perfect as insanely profitable, desirable, and seemingly high quality and well made. I understand that many people do not use Apple products.
Creating the perfect process
One of the most destructive, yet widely spread versions of perfectionism is the illusion and simplicity of success in business that’s being spread around. The ‘16 tactics to insane profitability’ or ‘what one simple thing brought in six figures in additional revenue’ propaganda we read every single day on ‘reputable’ news sources.
What’s never (or extremely rarely) talked about in those over-simplified articles are the things that it actually takes to be successful. And while what it actually takes can be boiled town into a few bullet points, those bullet points are layered with context for each individual person and business, and can’t be read as a repeatable ‘how to’ guide. Those bullet points take months or years of trial and error to end up working for us and helping us reach success.
There are too many success stories without enough focus on the times of non-success
In psychology, they call this survivorship bias–a logical error where we focus on those who have ‘survived’ some process and inadvertently overlook those who didn’t (probably because they’re not being paraded around front and center).
This bias can distort our reality, causing us to be overly optimistic and to falsely believe that the successes of a group are due to some special property they have that we don’t, rather than just being coincidence.
Those who win the war, write the history, right?
This cycle continues because we as consumers of content (aka readers of websites) keep clicking the stupid click-bait headlines hoping to find some magic spell or potion.
(Please contact me if you’ve clicked one of these articles, learned a tip or tactic, applied to your business, and enjoyed all the riches and success you were promised. I won’t hold my breath for any of those emails to show up in my inbox.)
The perfect process does not exist. What does exist, however, is the process you create for yourself and that works specifically for you. This comes with time and is never truly perfect.
Get off the Ferris wheel of perfection
By chasing the perfect anything, you’re essentially riding a Ferris wheel. As soon as you think you’ve reached the end, a new set of ‘problems’ arise and you continue going around in a never-ending circle.
Instead of going around and around, focus on creating and trusting the path you create for yourself. The one you won’t be able to see laid out perfectly in front of you.
“Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights but you can make the whole trip that way.” – E. L. Doctorow
There’s no such thing as a fully lit path. You simply need to give your ideas a chance. Believe in whatever process you choose. Build a business and life for yourself that you actually enjoy. The path will illuminate itself bit by bit just as headlights do on a winding road you’ve never driven before.
Stop searching for perfection and start focusing on completion
If you can reframe your thinking from perfection to completion, you’re sure to accomplish much more. Don’t worry about finishing a task in the perfect way, worry about finishing the task. The pursuit of perfection most often only leads to procrastination and avoidance.
By focusing on completion things will actually get done. Right or wrong doesn’t matter. What matters is that you are constantly moving yourself and your business forward.
In my own life, I’ve fallen into the trap of perfection many times. Back in 2008 when I was looking to launch my IWearYourShirt business, I had placed a daunting task ahead of myself: filming and editing a video every single day with zero filming experience. At the time I had committed to this path I didn’t even own a video camera or editing software. Scary, right? But what was even more scary were the thoughts that I let run rampant through my head: This first video has to be perfect or else people will know I don’t have any experience.
Can you guess what happened? At every stage in the process I put an immense amount of pressure on myself to have the perfect lighting, audio, angle, composition. The editing, I assumed, would have had to be perfect too. But I didn’t even get to that point because I gave up shortly after I started. The pressure of perfection was too much.
Then a thought occurred: Holy crap, I’m committing to making 365 daily videos… How the hell am I going to get a perfect video done everyday!?
That’s when I made the decision I would focus on completion and not perfection. Just get each day’s video done, I told myself. From that moment forward I tried to not worry about the perfect anything. If I felt something was wrong I’d just film a second take or two. If I didn’t love how I edited a text overlay on the video, I said I’d do a better job on the next one. Slowly but surely I got better at making videos. I am 100% aware that my early videos are terrible. But they got completed. And as time went on people started to really enjoy them (which meant more opportunities to get better).
A constant reminder for all of us: Done is better than perfect
Perfection is a virus, don’t let it infect you.
I’ve seen it work for myself and countless other friends and entrepreneurs over the years. You will not come up with the perfect idea, process, or business. And the pursuit of those things will keep you trapped, scared, and unable to get anything done.
Instead, rethink your priorities. Reframe your thinking. Focus on the path in front of you and make decisions based on what you can complete and then take the next step forward.