Perfection: Just F***ING ship it!
Overcoming our systematically engrained desire to be flawless
From the time that we’re 4 years old and sent off to school, we’re trained to strive for perfection. We’re taught that 10/10, 100% or an A+ grade is the best that is possible, and therefore, what we should all aspire to achieve. After 8 years in the real working world, I can now confidently say that letting go of perfection, a philosophy that 18 years in school hard-coded into me, is possibly my greatest hurdle to success in business.
By all means, perfection is a noble aspiration, and there are fields where it’s absolutely necessary (e.g. the NASA probe that crashed into Mars due to a metric/imperial conversion mistake), but in a fast-paced, tech-centric world, perfection is more often a hindrance than a help. This ugly beast can rear it’s head in many different circumstances, but I’ll focus on two examples: one that I’ve overcome and one that I’m struggling with right now.
The one I’ve overcome: finding your first job
I’m a millennial, but it’s taken me a long time to wear that label with confidence and pride. Why? As I started my career, the term millennial was primarily associated with delicate flowers who have been pampered by their baby boomer parents to such an extent that they believe the world inherently owes them something. I’ve watched many friends around me repeatedly turn down jobs early in their career because they weren’t PERFECT! They didn’t pay enough, they weren’t in the right city, the work was too monotonous…the list of excuses goes on. Let’s be clear here- I’m not talking about a seasoned worker with multiple years of experience under their belt and money in the bank who can afford to be so choosy, I’m talking about someone’s first stab at real-world working experience.
As the iGeneration (Gen Z) ages into the workforce, their attainment of perfection is poised to be an even bigger issue than it was for millennials. The reasons: AI and offshoring. It’s easier than ever before for a company to automate or outsource basic tasks- these also happen to be the roles that most junior workers cut their teeth on. The stark reality is that the iGeneration is in a race to climb enough steps up the ladder of experience before the incoming tide of AI and offshoring sweeps them out to sea.
A few guidelines as you are starting your career:
- Your first few jobs are a jumping off point: The goal when choosing your first 2–3 roles is to set yourself on a path where you can gain real experience and refine your skillset to then plan your next move. I like to think of this as playing chess rather than checkers.
- Focus on your end goal and be patient: If you plan multiple steps ahead it makes it far easier to accept the reality that you may only enjoy 25% of your work life at the start of your career.
- More school is rarely the answer: No textbook or case study can teach you what it’s like to invest 12 months of your life into a project that fails because you didn’t read the signs clearly written on the wall at the beginning. (Note- I’ve made that mistake, and I don’t regret it one moment because I learned from it!)
The one I’m struggling with: building a new product & company
As I work on building my new company, the words of one of my mentors ring in my ears: “Just fucking ship it!” This was a philosophy that he used to great success in both the corporate and startup world. The fundamental underpinning to the idea is that if you wait for perfection, you’ll likely be irrelevant because someone will have beaten you to market and captured your audience. This is easier said than done…
I was always a perfectionist in school; as I had a relatively endless quantity of time and very little responsibility other than my education, I could devote hours to perfecting my work to get top grades. In the end, these grades were vindication for my work and positively reinforced the cycle for 18 years. Unfortunately, that’s not how the startup world works. You are no longer judged on the theoretical potential of your work but instead on the reality of your ability to build a product, capture a market and rake in the profits. Many successful founders will tell you that getting it 75% correct is good enough if you do it fast enough and are focused on your next 75% release while your competitors are still trying to achieve 100% on their first paper. So for me, it’s time to learn how to be a solid B student instead of the A+ perfectionist, but how do I do this? So far what I’ve learned:
- Prioritization is king: My list of what I’m consciously not going to do is just as important as the list of what I will do. I’m challenging myself to be ruthless in taking a MVP (minimum viable product) approach with every aspect of the company, from brand to product.
- Consciously re-training myself: In the world of big corporate work, the slower pace allowed for my perfectionism to continue to live, although somewhat subdued. This blog is a public pledge to myself to shift into the just ship it mentality. I’m committing myself to one written post and one video per week, which should not take me more than 4hrs in total to complete.
- Flip failure on it’s head: I know that as I aim for 75% instead of 100% it opens up the odds for a greater amount of failure, but by changing my perspective about the feedback I get from failure, this becomes a benefit rather than drawback. A great example from this week was jumping up to speak at a pitch night when I didn’t believe that I was finished refining my proposition. It went…OK, but I missed a few key elements in my pitch and the judge immediately picked up on a flaw in my business proposition. At the end I had more feedback than when I went in.
Stay tuned for how the journey continues…