A Defense of Imperfection

I’m not a perfectionist, much to the chagrin of my partner (and possibly my boss). I’m able to be a perfectionist when necessary (especially when I’m getting paid), but it doesn’t come naturally and I will usually fight it tooth and nail. I don’t know why I’m this way, maybe genetics or maybe it is years of “schooling” that has encouraged me to just do the minimum necessary, but the reason isn’t important. I am solidly a “good enough” type of person, and I think that’s a good thing for two reasons.

You can’t pursue perfection and innovation at the same time.

Perfection is defined by someone else, usually someone who is invested in the status quo. The perfect way to garden or build a car or design a home is based on the patterns established in the past. Perfection is a conservative pursuit, it is the belief that the old way is best and we should just fall in line. That way lies stagnation.

It is the people who decide to ignore the rules that push advancement. It is those who are too lazy or bored or stubborn to read directions and do things the “perfect” way that are acting entrepreneurially. To paraphrase Henry Ford, “If I asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse”. If Ford was seeking the perfect way to provide transportation during his time he would have become a horse trainer. Evolution occurs when imperfections enter the system and prove to be beneficial.

Perfection is inefficient.

Even if I must tread the same, boring, status quo path to make something “perfect”, it is still probably a waste of my time. We should aim for “good enough” because that will allow us to spend our time and resources on other things. When I was in college I could spend two hours to get a 90% on a paper, or I could spend ten hours to get a 100%. At some point, the payoff isn’t worth the price (knowing what I know now I probably wouldn’t have even pursued a 90%).

“Good enough” lets you move on to bigger things. It lets you spend you diversify your time and skill set instead of wasting it on perfection. Someday we may have eternity to perfect skills and papers and curry recipes, but we don’t yet. Time is finite and it is better to have 100 skills and a dozen recipes and write a thousand papers that get the job done than miss out on those opportunities trying to perfect one. Variety is one of life’s pleasures, it is a shame to abandon that for some unattainable goal. We should do enough to accomplish our goals, and then move on.

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