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Summary:

Certain parts of my business are what I’m increasingly becoming known for, and if I hope to continue standing out in these areas, I have to continue to seek excellence, and to me, excellence is not the same as perfection.

I was recently struggling with an increasing workload and needed to find a way to manage it all. I started by trying to outsource some of the work, and while some of that effort was successful, much of the attempt was a nightmare and didn’t improve my productivity at all.

After I’d nearly come to the end of my rope, I was asked why I didn’t just cut some corners with some of my projects. My immediate gut instinct was to refuse that option, and I had to step back for a bit to reflect on why I was so against the idea. Was I seeking the unattainable — perfection — or was it something else?

I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t seeking perfection. Although there have definitely been times along the way where I got too wrapped up in minor details and perfectionism, I’ve gotten to a point where I can quickly recognize that in myself and quit while I’m ahead. No, it wasn’t that I was seeking perfection, but excellence.

Certain parts of my business are what I’m increasingly becoming known for, and if I hope to continue standing out in these areas, I have to continue to seek excellence, and to me, excellence is not the same as perfection.

Perfection is not attainable, and chasing it is pointless. Excellence, on the other hand, means not letting yourself off the hook, not cutting corners where it counts, and not copping out. It’s about being extraordinary, which, as Steve Harvey says, requires doing extra. Extra isn’t always easy.

If you want to be a cut above your competition, the go-to expert in your field, and the name that stands out in the minds of your customers and clients, then you have to strive for excellence. You have to know when you’re giving too much attention to things that don’t really matter and when you need to give extra attention to those that do.

How do you maintain a higher standard for what counts, while letting go of the need to perfect what doesn’t?

Photo by Flickr user indywriter, licensed under CC 2.0

  1. Thanks for this post. You are absolutely right that the pursuit of perfection is futile and can be counterproductive, but you are also so right to distinguish from that the pursuit of excellence, and to sing its praises.

    Twelve years ago, while working at a major consulting firm, I had a late evening discussion with one of my bosses who suggested that I was trying to produce too high a level of work, that the company would be better off if we all just sought to do “B+ work”. That was not the only straw, but it was among them, and a few months later I found myself striking out on my own as a consultant. I’ve not looked back.

    Thanks again for your post.

    Joe

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    1. Sorry, everyone, I’ve totally been forgetting to come over and reply!

      Joe, isn’t it amazing how many people actually WANT us to give second-rate efforts? Fortunately, you saw the opportunity in that – good for you!

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  2. The most important sentence in there: “If you want to be a cut above your competition, the go-to expert in your field, and the name that stands out in the minds of your customers and clients, then you have to strive for excellence.”

    Because you never know who might look at any given project once it’s completed, and use that as a basis to hire you or not. If they pick up a sub-par effort, you’re doomed.

    This is applicable to any industry. I worry about it as a lawyer.

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    1. Exactly right, Steve. You know, there are days when we’re just completely off our game, and I wonder if it wouldn’t be better to just take those days for ourselves and not work on those things that really matter. Otherwise, our hearts aren’t in it, and we end up churning out less than stellar results, and like you said, you never know who’ll see that work down the line.

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  3. Although I admit it’s extremely difficult to know where to draw the exact line, in the end: “Done (well) is better than perfect!”

    To me, the saying isn’t an excuse for delivery shoddy work. It is, however, an encouragement to get things off the table in a reasonable amount of time and in a reasonable level of quality instead of meditating and praying over a level of perfection that Pareto has already taught me won’t actually be worth the time and effort I invest.

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    1. I definitely agree, Trina, and there is a fine line. You have to be willing fail, too, but I guess we know that in ourselves, whether we’re taking short cuts because we’re being lazy or settling for second-best or if we’re giving something or best, and it’s just one of those times we’ll still fail.

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  4. Perfection is a matter of perception. My perception on what needs to be perfect and what doesn’t comes down to what the projects purpose is.

    If you’re working on a project for someone else; it’s generally a good idea to give it your all. However, if you’re creating a new product for yourself; it’s perfectly ok to cut a few corners in the beginning. Especially if you don’t yet know if the new product will be a hit.

    There’s always time to upgrade later.

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    1. Absolutely, Marcus. Like you said, especially when rolling out new products or services, there’s no way to know what will work or what won’t, so you have to go with “good enough” sometimes. I think the thing is knowing when that’s okay and when we’re just letting ourselves off the hook.

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  5. Amber,

    Great post, your breakdown of excellence vs. perfection is wonderful and concise. However, I do believe that both excellence and perfection can be achieved, just not always in our own eyes.

    Working with many different people in the hospitality industry as an event planner; I have come to realize that each person defines their sense of excellence and perfection very differently. To build a successful event, whether it is an executive level retreat or a couples 50th anniversary, there are a handful fundamentals that are always needed. These same constants such as anticipating needs, listening (to both the spoken and unspoken words), and truly partnering with a client are needed to build the foundation for their definition of excellence or perfection.

    If you successfully build a great relationship with your client and deliver an event that exceeds their expectations, makes it seem effortless, appears seamless, and have anticipated their unspoken needs -then you can truly take something from excellence to perfection in their eyes.

    Best,
    Chris Roffe

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    1. I agree, Chris, and for me, it’s more about personal best. I know what I can do and when I’m just taking the easy route. I know, too, that there’s someone out there who can do certain things better than me, and take with clients, for instance, they have to choose what’s acceptable for a given project. I have to figure out where I fall in that spectrum and know when I’m giving my personal best and be okay with that, while still pushing myself to achieve my own level of excellence.

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  6. Very motivating post. It’s true that people bogged down with pursuing perfection can often end up hurting the progress of the project. Excellence, however, is something that every professional should strive for. Very good job at distinguishing the two!

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    1. Thanks, Travis! Glad you liked the post.

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  7. [...] but you should also know your limits. In this way, you have to understand the difference between perfection and excellence. Strive to be excellent with your business, to be sure, but be willing to let go when it falls [...]

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  8. A clarity is required in life regarding what you exactly want regarding your goals. You are your best judge.

    Good article. You have to set your benchmark amidst constraints

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    1. Exactly right. “You are your best judge” and, I’ll add, your greatest competition.

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  9. I liked the post. It reminds me of Voltaire’s aphorism, “The perfect is the enemy of the good.”

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  10. [...] Perfection vs. Excellence in Your Business See All Articles » Fred Wilson: 10 Ways to Be Your Own Boss [...]

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