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.

Jame Healy is the Managing Partner at Alescent, providing advisory services, research and analysis primarily to corporate shared services organizations (finance, human resources, procurement, legal, supply chain, IT) within large multi-national companies.

With over 25 years of experience in strategy and management consulting within the financial services industry, as well as healthcare, transport/logistics and manufacturing, Jame has led numerous large, strategic and high-risk initiatives, delivering verifiable returns and "bottom line results". Jame has been a key advisor to senior executive management in many large, multi-national organizations, with an emphasis on revenue and income growth through service harmonization and financial performance optimization.

Jame has published several peer-reviewed articles and spoken at various trade and business events on strategy alignment as well as capabilities-oriented strategy execution, service integration and service optimization.

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