What is it about perfection that drives people mad? One of the things that I have come to digest, is the fact that most people want to stay away from the very notion of perfection. They will cite a number of reasons ranging from “be practical”, to “we don’t have time”, to “you’re lazy”, to “no one cares”, to “this will take forever and we’re losing revenue” and so on. I’m sure you get the gist and if you think the same, I’m unabashedly pointing at you!
Perfection is, in its true sense, unachievable. Because the day you think you’ve attained perfection, is the day you stop making it even better. In its digestible form, perfection is an idiosyncratic urge to persist, to continue climbing higher, to brave a tornado and to walk on fire. It is an innate desire to reject defeat and to shun the very idea of compromise. Yes, it is extremely hard to achieve and it takes eons at best. And in a practical world, this seemingly infinite mile climb does come to an end. And it is the view from the summit that heals the scars of the journey.
Around the world, there are people who believe in perfection. These ‘perfectionists’ are eccentric, often rude and confused, but inside their brain, is a coherent chain of thought that leads to iconic outcomes. They don’t think ‘good enough’ is good enough. Take the rather common and perhaps clichéd example of Steve Jobs. He was, above everything, a ruthless perfectionist. We know this for a fact because Apple didn’t really invent anything new, in its entire history of existence. But what it did, is bring perfection to the table. Take, for instance, the iPhone. When introduced, this was not the first touchscreen smartphone in the market. The market, at that time, was already saturated by products from companies such as Palm, HTC, Microsoft and many others. What Steve did at Apple, was to reinvent the device in a way that it should’ve been made in the first place. Apple is often criticised for being way too late to the party. And perhaps, of late, they’ve been so. But behind this snail walk, is a culture, a belief, to not release until seemingly perfect. Yes, they make mistakes, but who doesn’t? At least, they make the effort to walk on the road to perfection.
People who believe in perfection are often criticized as lazy. This happens because, acceptance to a thought, a process, an outcome, is not an obvious process for a perfectionist. It has to go through a battery of tests, both mental and practical. And that takes time. The difference between a bad book and a bestseller is in the fact that the best-selling author spent weeks and months at a time, writing his masterpiece while the other obviously didn’t. When writing software, or a movie script, or poetry, time is of the greatest essence. You have to spend a lot more than you think if you want the outcome to be close to perfection.
The trouble with this world is that it is divided into two broad categories of people. On one side, you’ve got thinkers. And on the other side, you’ve got workers. The thinkers spend hours at an end, trying to come up with ways to achieve perfection in a process. The workers just believe in doing it, no matter how crude or unsatisfactory the outcome. Amidst this crowd, there are very few golden tickets – people who’re a blend of perfection and production. The workers outweigh everyone else like sheep to a sheep dog. But it is the sheepdog, who wins at the end.
I’ve come across people, typically from a worker mindset, who believe that a product can be taken from concept to release in the shortest amount of time. And if not done so, an opportunity may be lost. It is true that a short-term opportunity may be lost if a product takes on the ‘perfection’ route, but history has shown us that turtles win the race. Products who rush to the market often miss out on maturity. They gather a first mover
People who rush to the market often miss out on maturity. They gather a first mover crowd but lose out on loyalty. They win millions in revenue but none in respect. And it is respect and loyalty that is gained by those who take the time to mature their craft, their wares, and their act. Imagine a wine that is fresh from the vineyard. Funny, isn’t it? If vintage works for wine, why can’t it work for everything else?
In the past century, there have been iconic perfectionists who’ve spent the better part of their lives believing in an idea, a figment of their imagination. And they’ve persisted through naysayers, the workers. When James Cameron was directing the ‘Titanic’, he was known to be short-tempered and for being a perfectionist. These two traits are not singular but part of the same coin.
It so happens that the lack of perfection can drive ‘perfectionists’ to bouts of insanity and rage. Most suffer from a type of obsessive compulsive disorder. The famous French novelist Gustave Flaubert, known for his realist novels and most commonly for ‘Madame Bovary’, is known to have famously said, “I’m irritated by my own word”. He said this in context of his inability to find ‘perfect’ words when writing his novels.
Barbra Streisand is known to have ditched entire recordings if she didn’t like as much as a single word in a song. You may think of such people as irritable flops, who can never produce anything tangible. But the reality is far from perception.
Perfection can also become a psychological barrier, a disorder of sorts. It can lead to depression, anxiety, insomnia and all things that aren’t kind to the human body. But then, going out of the house itself can be fatal these days. So, why bother anyway?
Perfectionism isn’t for everyone, nor is it understood by most. But it is at the heart of all things iconic and great in this world. From the pyramids to that Porsche, its everywhere. Try to see it, try to believe in it and try your hand at being one!