The Perfection Paradox

The Perfection Paradox

I recently listened to a motivating, inspiring podcast where the guest shared this advice: Be OK with B- work.


That stopped me in my tracks.

I’m not a B- person. I suspect you’re not either. We strive for that A every time, right?

After my initial shock wore off, I thought it through.

What does B- work look like?

Well, it’s a passing grade. It’s not perfect, but it’s not a failure either. And, I think more importantly to her point, it’s done. Taking that a step further, it’s done in a reasonable amount of time.

That’s the thing with striving for that A every single time: Sometimes the work doesn’t get done because, well, it’s not perfect and if it’s not perfect, what’s the point? Why put it out there? Or, it takes so long to make it perfect that the amount of time isn’t commensurate with the income generated.

I get it. I fall victim to this in a number of ways. For me, it’s not usually about completing the work but rather putting the work out there.

I think, “Well, I can keep tinkering. It’s not exactly how I want it, so I won’t send this pitch yet. I’ll keep working on it.” Then time passes and the pitch never goes out.

We want to produce great work.

No, we want to produce perfect work.

The problem, though, is that in that striving toward perfection, do you miss opportunities to complete good work?

But you can choose between the two disparate sides (hence the paradox): Either nothing you ever produce is perfect or everything you produce is perfect (just as it is).

It’s a mindset shift that can take you from paralysis to publication.

There’s a related quote that comes to mind:

“Each of you is perfect the way you are … and you can use a little improvement.” — Shunryu Suzuki

Maybe that’s the way to approach our work, as long as that “little improvement” doesn’t become an attempt at striding toward perfection but rather getting good work to completion.

I’m not sure I’d ever be OK with B- work, to be honest. Maybe A- or B+ work?

But, at the end of the day, B- work helps more people than incomplete, never-published-because-it’s-not-perfect work.