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On Mediocrity, Excellence, and Perfection

Giving up this one thing can create a domino effect that will skyrocket your business.

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BY Danny Iny - 14 Mar 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

How would you answer this question: "What's the one thing you had to stop doing to grow your business?"

Business success is too complex to boil down into one thing, of course. But if I had to choose just one thing I gave up that created a domino effect in my business, it would be the need to be perfect, the need to get things right from the get-go.

 

Perfectionism, the Oppressor

"Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people," wrote Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.

She explained:

It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won't have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren't even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they're doing it.

The first draft, the first iteration, the first attempt at something isn't necessarily going to be a home run--not by a long shot. That doesn't mean it doesn't have potential or there's no opportunity in it.

But often we don't even discover that potential and opportunity because we're seeking 100% certainty first.

We do that because we're afraid of people's judgment. We're afraid of what people will say. We're afraid of making mistakes. We're afraid of failing.

The moment you can let go of those fears is the moment you achieve the freedom to move on. You're free to take risks, take chances, and try things.

You can approach everything you're doing as an experiment.

If something doesn't work out, that's fine. You just learned from that experiment. "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work," Thomas A. Edison famously said.

 

Imperfect Doesn't Mean Mediocre

That being said, letting go of perfection isn't about doing everything half-heartedly and hoping it works anyway.

That's one sure way to live in what Seth Godin calls the Dip for a long, long time.

You can shorten the project's runway to success. If you're going to try a new project, aim for excellence by making sure to resource it properly. Look at the project and ask, "At the minimum, what is it going to take for me to do this well?"

Take that answer and make sure you're filling those requirements. Give the project a legitimate shot. Don't take on a new initiative, unless you're committed to resourcing it sufficiently.

That way, after a given period of time, if the project didn't work, then you can move on from there. You can make an informed decision about what to do next.

If you've given it the proper resources, time, and energy, and it still failed, then you know it's not the right strategy for you to pursue. You know where not to dedicate your energies.

But if you've been mediocre in implementing that project and it failed, then you wouldn't know if it was because the strategy was no good, or if it was because you didn't give it a real shot.

Then you'd be right back where you started.

 

What's Worse Than Failure

People think the worst thing is failing, but it's not. The worst thing is when you're in "no man's land" and you're scratching your head, wondering, "Did it fail, or did we just not do it right?" That's the worst thing, because you wouldn't have learned anything.

The journey to entrepreneurial success is filled with stumbles, falls, and false starts. Many things aren't great right out of the gate--even if they end up becoming great eventually.

The only way you'll know is by letting go of the need for perfection while at the same time aiming for excellence to give any endeavor the best chance to succeed.