My definition of perfection: not a formula but the ongoing process of improvement through learning, innovation, and iteration.
Is there such a thing as an answer that’s always correct? Since the dawn of Western philosophy, humans have sought to organize the universe into unchanging mathematical certainties. A circle’s area is always πr(squared). Gravity decreases in proportion to distance. Energy equals mass times the speed of light squared.
Like most people in the Western world, I learned this same approach to problem solving in school. I learned that questions have one — and only one — correct answer. Own the correct answers, pass the test. Even that principle is itself an immutable formula.
Formulas help ground us. They give us certainty; a sense that the universe functions according to consistent principles.
But there’s no single formula that provides a recipe for success. That’s why some schools of Eastern thought frame the problem differently. Instead of seeking permanent, universal answers, they seek to understand and perfect the process.
This point of view resonates much more closely with the work we do at Evo. In many situations, a universal perfect answer does not exist. In other words, perfection is not a state to be achieved, but an ongoing, ever-adapting process to be performed.
“I am not worried about competition: we can innovate faster than they can copy.” — Ray Kroc, McDonalds
Perfection is a balance
In business, the perfect price or perfect allocation is not a single formula. Rather, a continually adjusted balance between customers’ desires, capital investments, competitor behavior, and many other interrelated factors.
This means a perfect price or allocation is not a destination, but a process. I aim to achieve a state of perfection in motion, which holds steady even as factors shift. In practice: quickly identify local optimal solutions, learn from feedback, and rapidly adapt to changing circumstances.
That’s my definition of perfection: not a formula but the ongoing process of improvement through learning, innovation, and iteration.
The process of success
The most successful businesses have a deep understanding of this notion and mastered its application. The ability to rapidly adapt to fast changing environmental conditions differentiates companies, as well as human beings. To succeed, you need:
1) Define meaningful outcomes
Just as no single KPI is meaningful for every company, no single outcome is always synonymous with success. One day it may mean widening profit margins, while at another time lowering prices in response to competitor promotions may be desirable. The zen of perfection demands ongoing redefinition of ideal targets.
2) Design the approach to measurement
Constant changes in approach require continuous tracking and feedback. Once you’ve defined an ideal outcome for a given time and location, it’s necessary to track progress, generate reports, and verify whether you’re on track — and where you need to make adjustments.
3) Be willing to pay the price to learn and adjust
Adaptation is always painful. It hurts to find out you’ve been doing something wrong — and it hurts even more to find out you can’t keep doing something that’s made you successful, because circumstances have changed. The zen of perfection requires humility — an acceptance that change is integral to success.
“If we could eliminate all our ego barriers and emotional reactions to mistakes, we’d learn so much faster.” — Ray Dalio, Bridgewater Associates
Far from being a soft skill, the zen of perfection is a rigorous discipline — and not everyone is capable of taking it on. Success in business requires a willingness to innovate and thrive in the midst of highly ambiguous circumstances.
For those who learn to be comfortable with this ambiguity, and to treat perfection as a process rather than a state, the rewards are all but unlimited.
Artificial Intelligence versus human thinking
Part of our future lies with artificial intelligence. AI can process massive amounts of data that humans can’t, after all.
But as a hot topic, AI tech is somewhat misunderstood. Everyone’s in a mad dash to adopt the shiniest new toys. However, just grabbing the latest and greatest won’t necessarily be beneficial. What matters the most is employing AI tech that improves customer-centricity.
The one thing you need to get perfect is the journey your customers take with you. How can you improve your mapping? For example, taking your data on current customers and extrapolating it to prospects.
AI is hugely beneficial for business because it’s quick, efficient, and practically error-free. Especially when compared to humans.
But all this means nothing when your AI tech has nothing to process. More specifically, machine learning. Machine learning does best when it has massive amounts of data to work with.
What’s going to get better results: a sample pool of 100 people or a sample pool of 1,000,000?
Artificial intelligence works in the same way. If it has barely any data to work with, you won’t get an accurate picture of what your customers want. And when that happens, things can go wrong with your customer journey.
As the name suggests, machine learning works when there is data to feed the machine. At any other point, stop worrying about perfection and start believing in the power of imperfect human thinking.
PS I regularly write about Business Science, for example:
Data Science is Dead. Long Live Business Science!
The 5 lessons anyone could learn from the humble salmon
Fashion Is Broken. Science Is Fixing It
Transforming the 5 core fashion processes
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