Perfection Is the Greatest Obstacle to Productivity

RXR Realty: Senior Director, Capital Markets
4 min read
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On my first day at my first real job as a newly minted lawyer at a prestigious law firm, I walked into orientation and saw an unnerving message up on the board: "Proofread until your eyes bleed." We were instructed that as lawyers, our work represents the firm. If we sent out a document or an email with any mistakes, we embarrassed the firm and jeopardized the trust of clients.

We needed to be perfect.

Before I would send an email, I read it a dozen times. I knew that one typo and the partner would be wondering "Really? Who is this guy?" Two and I knew that he'd be lining up candidates to replace me.

That demand for perfection has stuck with me and I've been trying to get rid of it ever since.

Related: Your Secret Mental Weapon: 'Don't Let the Perfect Be the Enemy of the Good'

But isn't being perfect a good thing? Not really. Most of the time perfection is the greatest obstacle to productivity.

Perfection has no business in the world of entrepreneurship. Moving at today's supersonic pace, you have to weigh the opportunity cost of letting perfectionism slow you down. If you won't send something until it is perfect, you’re not pulling the trigger quickly enough.

To quote LinkedIn founder Reed Hoffman, "if you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late."

To stay relevant in today's business world, you need to shift away from the perfectionist approach. In Peter Diamandis' New York Times bestseller, Bold, he reveals the mind shift taking place in product design.

Traditionally, teams designed and redesigned, tested and retested products in R&D departments until they were perfect. That worked two decades ago. Now, if you wait too long to launch a product, by the time it hits the market, it's already outdated or even obsolete. You run the risk of a competitor introducing a 2.0 version before you get your beta out.

Diamandis identifies how successful businesses are moving toward a more agile design strategy, where "minimum viable products" are brought to market quickly. Once a product is launched, development teams gather valuable feedback from the users and adapt the product, making it better. They call this process rapid iteration. You don't wait for perfection to launch. You strive for perfection by rapidly responding to market feedback.

Related: How Perfection Can Ruin Your Business

Products need to be good enough to launch, and businesses have to be open to criticism and committed to being responsive. Although it may seem counterintuitive, this approach drives quality.

This is true in product development and all areas of business. Shift away from the mindset that "I'll sit myself in the corner until this is perfect." Instead, embrace a new approach: Send things out, get feedback, adapt and change. Then repeat again and again.

Although success is never a straight line, if you stick to this approach long enough, you'll develop better intuition -- and more confidence -- about what works and what doesn't.

Where does the need to be perfect come from? I believe that perfectionists are often just protecting themselves. They want to avoid negative feedback. They'd much rather hold onto something until they're certain it's great then let other people make that decision.

I'm not advocating you go out there and throw anything against the wall, but you need to know that there's a balance. Strive for excellence, but make sure your efforts are focused on what's best for the product or for the company, not because you fear anything less than a round of applause. A little criticism or failure never killed anyone. Learn to embrace it and use it to make you great.

Related: How to Overcome Perfectionism to Succeed in Business

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