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3 Ways Perfectionism Kills Innovation

Strategy

So much of the trepidation around innovation and creativity comes from the fear of screwing it all up. The anxiety of entertaining the idea that whatever you’re thinking about or working on will blow up in your face, or wreck your career, or make you look like a total idiot. You’re scared of appearing flawed or vulnerable, or showing off an idea that everyone else will gleefully drag through the mud — basically, it’s the fear of not being perfect. And the truth is, when you’re preoccupied with being perfect? You can’t innovate your way out of a paper bag.

Here are 3 ways perfectionism destroys innovation.

1. Perfectionism is a Fantasy.

When the art of business (or the business of art) is portrayed in movies or media, it’s usually a montage showing lots of struggle and tears: Rocky punching dead cows; Gordon Ramsay screaming about the risotto; Debbie Allen shouting at you. In a business setting, the fantasy starts when the Big Boss comes in and stomps on the work of his subordinates, flips the desk over and yells ‘It’s not right! Start over!’ The minions immediately go back to work and, at the last possible minute, pull off the Big Amazing Thing, saving the company and winning the glowing commendations of the CEO.

We love to cast ourselves in this drama as we huff and puff and sweat and tear our hair out — “It’s important! Look how hard we’re working! I’m an important person working on important things!’” — but the reality is that you really can’t manage people like this all of the time. You’ll burn everyone out, and eventually, riding dangerously close to deadlines will leave your team frustrated and uninspired.

When you’re drinking the cool nectar of a perfectionist fantasy future, you’re missing out on the reality of what’s right in front of you, right here: a problem that needs solving, and that you might have to take more than a few cracks at. You can only start from where you are.

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2. Perfectionism Worships the Almighty “Right” Answer.

One of Steven Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is to ‘begin with the end in mind.’ With perfectionism, you’re beginning with the end in mind, but you’re only accepting one possible outcome. When you’re that focused on the One True Answer, you’re missing out on myriad alternate possibilities — even if a different result would be more beneficial, or easier, or more profitable and attainable in the long run.

Keep the goal in mind, of course, but be open and expansive to new answers and new possibilities that might be better than what you originally imagined.

3. Perfectionism Dismisses Process.

Another issue with closing yourself off to variables: being laser-focused on that one right answer means you miss the entire journey that you should be taking to get the best results from your efforts. You’ll use any means to get to the desired end, and on the way, you’re ignoring all of the super valuable learning and growth that comes along with trial and error. When you don’t see the journey as valuable, it isn’t.

The path towards effective innovation is ever-winding and rarely friction-free. Be sure you’re seeing the landscape as you travel, instead of just focusing on the top of the mountain.

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