“Perfect is the enemy of the good (enough*).” - English and French sentiment originating around 1600.
* added by the author of this blog post.
Humans have long considered the idea that not stopping until something is “perfect” may actually impede the ability to get work done; even the assumption that a perfect solution exists has been questioned.
Surprised? It does seem to go against popular contemporary ideas which exhort us to “try our hardest” and “never give up.” Yet these motivational ideas may apply more to the fields of sports, medicine, mathematics, science, and art, in which precision in the field or lab may make or break a career or save a life. For those of us who work as knowledge workers with individual and/or team responsibilities, the truth is less exacting.
The downside of striving for perfection
It’s natural to want to impress bosses and colleagues, so we may feel reluctant to stop refining our work until it represents our best effort. However, striving for perfection slows us down. It guilts us into spending too much time thinking, researching, debating, and refining. It binds us in minor details. What’s worse, when we think we’re close to perfection and finally share the work, we may discover that the scope of a project has changed and our work is no longer relevant. We’ve wasted precious time.
Stressful, isn’t it? Researchers from the University of Florida confirm that perfectionism not only leads to procrastination, but also causes increased stress and anxiety. Seeking perfection in the context of of a collaborative team project increases the potential for wasted time and additional stress in an organization.
So if not perfection, then what? Good enough to go (GETGO)
“Good enough to go,” or “GETGO” for short, is a phrase we use at Meeteor to make the call to move work forward, even if the work is not 100%. GETGO relieves us from the pressure of having to product “perfect” work and reminds us to pursue our top priorities.
Here are three guidelines to keep in mind about GETGO.
If you’re striving for excellence, and you want to get things done efficiently, you have to find the balance between quality and efficiency. There is frequently a tradeoff between the two, but that doesn’t mean the “quality” you’ve achieved is less than what it would have been if you continued striving for perfection.
Perfection is often an elusive goal with a moving target. It’s more practical to set up decision-making criteria in your organization to evaluate if you’ve achieved GETGO.
For example, we publish weekly blog posts at Meeteor. Sometimes we can get overly encumbered by minor details like word choice or writing style, which costs us too much time on one post at the exclusion of our other responsibilities. So we devised criteria to determine if the content is clear, actionable next steps are reasonable, and the article provides overall value for our readers.
If any member of our blog team decides that the draft meets all the criteria (even if it’s not perfect), she calls out “GETGO.” If others agree, we publish the piece and move on to other priorities. If they disagree, we work to quickly resolve the issue in question. We still meet our goals without compromising quality and at the same time, we manage our stress by limiting the time we spend.
GETGO must be considered in the context of other priorities and the time we have at our disposal. Incorporating GETGO as a guiding principle insists that we are critical of how we spend our time. If we spend an extra 20 minutes on a project, will it result in a corresponding value increase for the customer or company? Or is that extra 20 minutes a reflection of our insecurity around letting an imperfect yet completed project go?
Once a conversation or deliverable reaches GETGO, there follows a diminishing return on time investment. It’s in our best interests to move on.
Author Ron Ashkenas describes the phenomenon of striving for perfection at the expense of action as “paralysis by analysis,” and notes that many companies suffer from this kind of culture. It’s up to us to identify and work towards achieving our top priorities Spending too much time and energy trying to perfect one solution prevents us from moving forward to achieve optimal ROI.3. Good enough creates opportunities for learning and improvement.
Many people are hesitant to call GETGO because of a fear of failure. But “failure” is often a source of critical learning. In a piece written for Forbes, Vanessa Loder, Co-Founder of Mindfulness Based Achievement, shares 5 strategies to overcome the fear of failure. She recommends asking three questions in response to perceived failure:
What did I learn from this situation?
How can I grow as a person from this experience?
What are three positive things about this situation?
At Meeteor, we intentionally “fail” in order to learn. We use Lean Startup principles to develop our business and products. The idea is to create a minimum viable product (MVP), put it in the hands of customers, get their feedback and iterate the product/solution based on their actual experience. We know the MVP is imperfect, but it is good enough to deliver some value and more importantly, allows us to learn how we can improve the product to best serve their needs. This keeps us from spending time building features that customers don’t actually want or are designed in ways that make them sub-optimal.
Actionable tips to achieve GETGO
Ready to start practicing GETGO? These tips can help you individually and as a team.
Remind yourself that your work does not define you. The next time you feel that striving for perfection is preventing you from moving forward, pause and ask yourself a couple questions.
Will spending another 20-30 minutes on the work actually lead to added value?
Am I taking this additional time to feel more secure about producing a perfect product?
If the former is true, go for it; if it’s the latter, save your time and energy for something else that’s important to you.
Forward this blog post onto your team! Discuss if you’d like to bring the concept of GETGO into your work as a team and, if so, create a shared understanding of what “good enough” means. Set up criteria for success at the start of a meeting, project, or work deliverable so you can decide whether the work is GETGO based on these measures.
You can also explicitly make GETGO a team norm, like we’ve done at Meeteor. We use the phrase in formal and informal meetings, and we even created an emoji for our online chat rooms.
Does striving for perfection cause you or your team to stall? How do you deal with it? Does your organization have a GETGO philosophy?