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Many start-ups and SMEs have CEOs who are perfectionists.

It is a trait that they have to learn to curb if they are going to be successful, grow and scale the business.

That may sound odd? Surely perfection is what sets us apart, what we all strive for, what will make us special, different, and ultimately, successful?


The problem with perfection is that it’s an endless pursuit. It’s a vision that is seldom found or achieved. It’s often unattainable and most importantly it is usually just too damned expensive!


I know this from personal experience because I am a perfectionist by nature. A polisher. I often in the past found it difficult to actually finish a large piece of work, something where I feel that one more iteration or change will bring it closer to exactly where I want it to be. The danger is that this cycle can repeat and repeat. Just one more small change, just one more round of edits and the impact on a team of people working on such a project can be soul destroying.

Think of it from their point of view: it was good weeks or days ago. It was great last week. So what are we doing to it now that makes it that much better? It's just taking far too long!

The fact is that taking too long in completing any project costs time, loses opportunity time – the time when whatever it was could be being used to help the business – and has a negative impact on the delivery team as they struggle with why it is taking so long and the irritation that it needs one more polish.


The problem with perfection is that you cannot afford it!

If you are a start-up or an SME, your budgets and your burn rates should be front of mind – you have got to get best value out of any development activity or project. You have to accept that great is really good enough. Hug ‘great’, accept ‘great’, and don’t waste time in making it perfect – business life is too short.

To make the point, take a look at this graph.

If you are not familiar with the law of diminishing returns, it states that at a certain point, adding or doing more will not produce significant gains. The time you invest into activities will not reap the results or rewards you are expecting – but the problem is knowing when you have reached that point.


Image credit: No More PR & Marketing Bollox

As you can see, in terms of time spent versus quality/value, ‘good’ (with the right team) should be achievable fairly quickly and ‘great’ is attainable in a sensible amount of time. But as you pursue “perfection”, the law of diminishing returns comes into effect. The level of improvement you get in value for the amount of time invested does not justify the return.

From a business and marketing perspective, the pursuit of perfection is unsustainable and far too costly.

The world of artistic endeavour

Outside of the world of business, other pressures come into play. If you take a look at the graph below, it highlights that in an artistic environment, ‘good’ and even ‘great’ are often relatively easily achieved. However, such is the level of competition and such is the demand for perfection, that they are seldom ever good or great enough to receive acclaim and recognition. 


Image credit: No More PR & Marketing Bollox

Interestingly, the graph of quality and value against time heads in a different direction here as the pursuit of excellence is something that, if achieved, will add significant value and time spent pales into insignificance. Think of Michelangelo painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, or for any of the great master painters; time is abundant – perfection is the rare and scarce and value is often ‘priceless!’

In business and marketing - perfection is the enemy of great!

So rather than aiming for perfection, aim for ‘Great’ and when you see it, accept it, congratulate it, and move on to the next project.

Delaying your activities in the hopes of perfection will lead to missed opportunities and increasing costs.Take action. If it works, refine it. If it doesn’t, take a look and see how you can improve.


Tip #47: Accept and celebrate great work. Do not waste time on the endless pursuit of perfect. Get to a point that is great enough and then stop. Publish it, or present it or sign it off. But whatever you do leave it there and enjoy the fact that you got good value and rapid results. You cannot afford Perfect!

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