Celebrate Black History Month . . .
Leave Perfect Behind and Help Your Business Move Ahead
The desire to perform perfectly is understandable in a world that holds women and people of color to a higher standard. But business prizes speed, agility and relentless action over perfection. If everything has to be just right (including you) before launching or expanding your company, or stretching for your next role, you risk being left behind as others charge ahead.
Perfectionism can lead to wasteful over-preparing, tinkering with details and running too many what-if scenarios while avoiding real action with real consequences. To accelerate success, founders must develop a tolerance for purposeful risk taking, get their ideas out in the world, fail fast, learn and move on.
Pitfalls of perfectionism
Perfectionism is not the same as wanting to excel. It’s less about high standards and more about fear of losing, failing or disappointing yourself and others, according Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Faculty & Staff Health and Wellness Center. You may be a perfectionist if you:
- Judge yourself constantly
- Set unrealistic standards for yourself and others
- Feel anxious about falling short of self-imposed standards
- Avoid making tough decisions
- Sidestep situations where you could fail
- Are unable to see failures as feedback and learn from them
- Obsess over small mistakes
- Never feel like you’ve made it
- Get stuck in the weeds rather than focusing on high-impact goals
Unfortunately, we’re often rewarded for perfectionist behaviors. Founders may feel especially pressured to be charismatic, always “on” and consistently succeeding. Customers and colleagues may praise your obsessive attention to detail or willingness to put in hour after hour to get something just right. Insisting on perfection can also provide a false sense of control while breeding inefficiency and costing you time, money and learning.
Research in the Journal of Applied Psychology concluded that perfectionism has a net detrimental effect on employees and organizations. It’s linked to burnout, reduced efficiency and a tendency to doubt your ability to meet job demands. Perfectionists are also more likely to feel cynical toward their work, fearful others may judge it as less than ideal.
There is a reason that experienced entrepreneurs talk about failing fast and minimum viable product (MVP). As a founder, you can miss out on game-changing feedback from customers that will help you create the product or service they really want if you invest all your time and capital creating the “perfect” experience you think they want. That learning may be what led billionaire entrepreneur, Mark Cuban, to say, “Perfection is the enemy of profitability. Perfection is the enemy of success. You don’t need to be perfect, because nobody is.”
The perfect trap
Research suggests people of color may be particularly vulnerable to perfectionism. In the journal, Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, scholars point to studies that highlight how children of different races gauge performance pressure from parents. They found that Black children may feel especially pressured to succeed as a result of racism and oppression experienced by their parents.
Many Black adults have also experienced workplace pressures to perform at higher levels just to be seen as comparable to white colleagues. But progress is a far more empowering goal than perfection. It focuses you on action and helps you view setbacks as a normal part of learning.
Transition to excellent
Consider these ideas to replace self-sabotaging perfectionism with the pursuit of excellence.
- Learn to spot the differences between a genuine desire to improve, excel and succeed and unrealistic expectations.
- Ask yourself better questions such as, “Could I invest my time more wisely and profitably right now? Can I delegate this task and let it go? How much more motivated will I feel if I accept mistakes as part of the learning process?”
- Monitor relationships to determine if perfectionism is driving people away, or making them unwilling to give you constructive feedback.
- Embrace failure as information you can immediately use to improve.
- Live in the present rather than fixating on past mistakes or worrying about ones you might make tomorrow.
French philosopher Voltaire paraphrased an Italian proverb hundreds of years ago and said, “Perfect is the enemy of good.” Today, he might add, “and of entrepreneurial success.”