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Good Enough Is Never Good Enough, And Perfection Is Impossible

By Julie Neidlinger on September 24, 2012 in News.

Is perfection keeping you from getting started?

You’re struggling to get a project started. You had a project going, but it seems to be dying. Unfortunately, there are two opposing forces that are working against you. You’re either waiting for perfection, or satisfied with mediocrity.

Mediocrity and perfection are found at different ends of the spectrum; they seem unrelated. What could they have in common?

Mediocrity and perfection work to prevent you from starting, launching, and improving. They attack the process at different points on the timeline, and provide what seem like legitimate reasons for stopping your efforts. Though different, their end result can be the same: nothing happens. You don’t produce.

Perfection Keeps It From Starting

Aiming for excellence is a must. Anything less is unacceptable.

Perfection, however, isn’t the same as excellence. Perfection isn’t attainable, and so it cripples and provides excuses for not starting. Perfection makes you feel OK about not even trying because you’re always waiting for a moment when you or your product will be perfect before launching. That moment never comes.

To even get close to perfection means you have to have a lot of experience with imperfection to know what it isn’t. Until you are willing to start with something imperfect, you’ll never ship your product.

Getting Past Perfection

Shipping your product means understanding what the minimum viable product (MVP) is. What is the least amount of features that are necessary for a product to start for a particular audience? The MVP is never final, and is far from perfect. It isn’t a shoddy product, however. What it is, is a start. A good start. Understand what the MVP is, ship, and remember that it’s your start, not your finish.

If it’s your finish, you’ve become too comfortable with mediocrity.

Mediocrity Keeps It From Growing

Mediocrity is tough to identify. Often, a product is an improvement over a previous version, and so in comparison it looks pretty good. That comparison is never good enough in the long run. If you’re always looking back at what used to be to feel good about what is, you’ll never reach excellence.

Mediocrity comes from laziness, being understaffed and over busy, lack of skill, bad attitudes in the team, or a desire to not upset the status quo. The first four can be dealt with using fairly tangible methods. Training, hiring, or firing will do the trick. The last one, though, is where things get tough, particularly when it originates with leadership. Sometimes leaders unwittingly embrace mediocrity through a culture of procedures that kill attempts at excellence.

When Mediocrity Sets In

If remaining safe and not upsetting anyone are considered more important than achieving excellence, mediocrity has set in, no matter how good one or two products might be. What’s worse is that mediocrity has an effect on more than just products and sales. It affects your team.

Mediocrity that drags on a long time does three things:

  1. Team members leave. People who desire excellence will never stick around and have their name associated with a mediocre product. If they sense that a mediocre product is good enough, they’ll look around and find a place to be where it isn’t. They don’t want to waste their energy and ideas in a place where they’ll be shushed or ignored in order to maintain safety instead of innovation.
  2. Team members stay. Some team members will stay, and you might even attract new ones to replace those that left. The only kind of people who will stick around, though, are those that are comfortable with mediocrity. It becomes a culture of minimal effort, safe “creativity”, and a focus on procedures instead of producing anything.
  3. Your product dies. At the start, the first product improvement was enough. But time changes and it isn’t long before what was good becomes mediocre. If no efforts are made to amp it up, your product dies a slow death. Maintenance is not at all the same as necessary growth.

Getting Rid Of A Mediocre Culture

Getting rid of mediocrity is almost impossible if leadership embraces and encourages it, or if they’ve put procedures in place thatĀ guaranteeĀ it. If, however, you find that leadership (or you, if you are the leader) truly wants to work hard for excellence instead of relaxing in mediocrity, there are three things that must happen:

  1. Learn to identify it. Do you even know what mediocrity is? Excellence is easy to spot if you’re used to it. You’ll know poor quality work once you’re accustomed to excellent work. Surround and immerse yourself in the excellent work of others. Become used to excellence, and you’ll be able to spot mediocrity right away.
  2. Learn to kill. Sometimes the best a product or feature will ever be is mediocre. It might have started off sounding like a good idea, but proved to be so only on paper. Stop throwing time and money after it. Kill it. There is no place for “good enough” or “good ideas” when excellence is the goal.
  3. Learn how to compare. If you compare your product to an earlier version, and breathe a sigh of relief at how much better it is, watch out. You’re about to feel good and safe with mediocrity. If you compare and find that it’s the same or worse, see step two above. Cautiously compare yourself to competitors; you’ll end up feature-matching and chasing a competitor instead of chasing excellence if you aren’t careful.

Remember: excellence is the goal.

Perfection is a myth, and mediocrity is dead weight. Keep your eye on that goal of excellence and do what it takes to stay on course.

[Question "What methods have you used to keep mediocrity out of your business?"]