The Power of Perfection

“If you become widely successful because you do everything right, you’re doomed.”

So said
Clayton Christensen, academic, author, and authority on “disruptive innovation” whom I heard speak last week on the state of healthcare in our nation. While I indeed share many of his concerns about our healthcare system, the above comment at the beginning of his presentation was what loomed in my mind at the time and ever since.

Our drive to “get it right” is fueled by a confusion between excellence and perfection. I can’t tell you how many times I hear talented and highly trained PhD professionals working at the lab bench comment on the potential value of an 80/20% solution. Yet seldom is that deemed adequate, either by research professionals or management. Despite the rhetoric, the “line” doesn’t play. Why?

As individuals we’re reluctant to attend to a root cause – the need we acquired as individuals, somewhere along the way, to be “perfect” in order to be accepted, recognized, loved. I can “hear” clients thinking, “Don’t go psychological on me!” However, such personality traits, multiplied many times over in a given organization, become embedded in the culture. We are more productive when we don’t undermine ourselves and our projects with the unrecognized power of perfection. At least I am.

To know the difference between excellence and perfection is to understand what it means to be human.