Perfectionism won't help your startup

"Perfect" is bad for business. Here's what to focus on instead.

Two kids walk into a classroom and... 👫 #

The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality.

His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pounds of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot – albeit a perfect one – to get an “A”.

Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes – the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.
- Art & Fear

Something similar happens in startups when founders obsess over perfect.

What is perfectionism? #

Definitions for perfectionism hone in on two things: (a) an impossible ideal and (b) criticism of anything sub-ideal.

Meaning, perfectionism makes you very rigid.

While that might fly for other professions, it's dangerous for entrepreneurs because startups demand flexibility. 🙆

There’s something else that’s dangerous about perfectionism: it's self-centered. It’s more about protecting egos than doing what’s best for your startup. That's why "oh, it isn't perfect yet" is a common excuse for not launching a product or not validating an idea (trust us, we’ve used this excuse many times in the past). 😅

Why this is bad for business #

There isn't a perfect solution to your customer, competition, or product problem. 🙅

There are several great solutions.

If you're hung up on finding one perfect solution, you will endlessly search and miss a lot of great options along the way.

You also face these challenges:

  • Delegation is a nightmare; you do everything yourself. 🙇
  • You overwork and burnout quickly. 🔥
  • You stress your coworkers with impossible standards. 😣
  • You make very little progress because few things, if any, are perfect enough. 🐌
  • You struggle to prioritize because that thing in the corner over there still isn't perfect and driving you crazy. 👀

And did I mention researchers link perfectionism to an impressive number of clinical disorders? 😱

But wait, you might say, "What about Steve Jobs? Wasn't he the poster child for perfectionism or something?" Yeah. But some argue it was only after he learned to rein that in that Apple flourished. 📱

And think about this: can you afford the slow-paced development, fired talent, burnt bridges, and tossed-aside projects he left in his wake? Whatever your opinion of perfectionism, you have to admit it's very costly. 💸 💸 💸 💸

The alternative that propels your business 🚀 #

This doesn't mean you toss standards out the window and produce crap. 💩You can strive for excellence without being a perfectionist.

What's the difference?

Excellence is rooted in opportunity. Perfectionism is rooted in fear.

Pursuing the first means:

  • Releasing a good, imperfect product that users can test and make excellent. 👨🏻‍💻
  • Handing over an imperfect first draft so it can become excellent in the hands of an editor. 📝
  • Practicing pitches and networking so you can cultivate excellent opportunities. 🤝
  • Choosing a good business name – instead of searching for a "perfect" one for months – so you can focus on improving your business. 💯
  • Sending out great email responses so you can provide excellent overall support. 🏆

Excellence – and the practice that goes into it – propels your business forward. 🚀

Perfectionism leaves you with a pile of dead ideas. ☠️

Stepping out of perfectionism #

The good news is, even if you've been a lifelong perfectionist, you don't have to stay a lifelong perfectionist. You can re-train your brain (how cool is that?!) to think and react along different lines. 🤔

Here is a manageable way you can start:

  • Choose ONE thing to be less of a perfectionist about this month. Selecting a CRM? Creating a demo? Your pitch? Pick something approachable. 1️⃣
  • Spend 30 minutes with someone (mentor, friend, coworker) to figure out what an excellent – not perfect! – solution looks like. 💭
  • Chase down that solution. 🏃
  • The hardest part: move on to one other thing once you hit excellent, no matter how imperfect it still feels. ➡️

As Seth Godin pointed out, "Anything beyond good enough is called stalling and a waste of time." 💥

Now go have an excellent, imperfect day. 👋

"Avoid perfectionism – it doesn’t exist. There is no perfect moment, product, service or opportunity. Get busy, stay busy and do the best you can to make your idea work."
- Steve Blank

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