Perfection is the enemy of the good

Everyone has their own limit on what is good enough, what will do, what they will accept.  Some people have fairly low limits and some have extraordinarily high limits.

From what I’ve seen, those who set the higher limits, those that really push others for things to be done well, those that demand perfection, tend to rise up the hierarchy.  They may not come close to achieving perfection themselves in their own work, but this act of insisting upon it from others has real power.

So what makes this behaviour so successful?  Well, as usual, it all comes down to control.  If you set the standards then you get to control when something is good enough.  You are the only one who can agree to a softening of the demands and accept the work is complete.  If anybody else tries to declare a victory then they get slapped down with a “but it isn’t finished as we want it!”.

This is a technique almost every manager uses, whether knowingly or not.

Now in order to be the one that sets the standards, there is nearly always a bidding war on just how high the demands can go.  There has to be because if someone else sets higher expectations that you then you’ve lost control and someone else has it.  So you have to up the ante by expecting even more than anyone else involved.

You can actually see this bidding war happen in meetings some time, when different managers trying pushing the expectations closer and closer to perfection.  In the end normally the most senior one wins by setting impossibly high standards.  I bet you’ve come across that lots before.

That’s why so many people at the top of an organisation appear to always expect the impossible – because they have had to bid that high so often they have got used to doing it as a matter of course.

But what about those people who actually aim for perfection all the time in their own work?  As far as I can see, those that only expect perfection of themselves and don’t explicitly push others to achieve it, don’t have the same upward path.  If anything they tend to get kept at a static level and taken for granted.

For a start it is too prone to failure.  Some people in their aim for perfection never get anything done, which is a real career killer.  Some people come close, very close but they kill themselves doing it, or they trample on office relationships or they take so long it was never worth it.

For most of them though, nobody really notices.

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