The pursuit of perfection
Many see the aspiration for perfection as an unrealistic endeavor and a recipe for unnecessary strain or disappointment. Most of us know from experience that virtually nothing in our world ever reaches a static state of perfection. Yet, there are ways to relate to the notion of perfection that is both practically useful and inspiring. Think of perfection as a journey – a direction, rather than a final destination. The pursuit of perfection is a consciously directed process of continuous improvement. It serves as a driving force, moving the present condition in the direction of perfection – the desired goal.
The challenge is not to embrace the value of reaching our set goals through continuous improvement; the real test is how we manage the constraints of reality in order to reach those goals with the least amount of waste and friction. It may be helpful to be reminded of the fact that a system is usually greater and more complex than the sum of its parts; it is difficult to attribute failure or success to one factor alone. Both subjective and objective factors influence reality on the ground, and should therefore be appreciated, identified and aligned in a way which generates a state of flow – a synergistic harmony between people and resources. Every cause has an effect and every effect has a cause; the manifestation of anything is always a consequence of some underlying constituents or assumptions. The key is to understand how cause (the influencing factors) and effect (the results) are connected and how they can be managed and directed effectively.
Perceived truths, perspectives and circumstances are often more subtle and nuanced than what appearances suggest. There is rarely a black-and-white, true or false answer to every scenario. There may be multiple answers, and answers which depend on certain conditions. In large or complex organizations, this is particularly important to be mindful of. Creating a culture which emphasizes listening, understanding and individual autonomy will support activities and processes that contribute to great results.
Leadership and collective responsibility is not a privilege reserved for managers alone. Every individual in an organization, regardless of rank or title, should be encouraged to take responsibility for both the immediate, personal sphere of influence and the collective unit that one is an integral part of. In practical terms, this means being aware of other roles and factors in the organization and treat every internal contributor as one would a valued customer. A strong and healthy organization is one with strong links between different people and departments, processes and activities.
Those with managerial or coordinator roles in the organization should see themselves first and foremost as facilitators – as servant leaders; they clear away obstacles to progress and inspire a culture of trust and respect.
Effective means to realize a goal is only a part of the equation. It is equally important to set appropriate goals. Not all goals lead to great results. A luxury cruise liner with all of the amenities imaginable is of no value if the ship is steered towards a cliff. Strategic goals and decisions need to be anchored in reality as well, taking in account all known risk factors. Once a direction has been set, there needs to be room for maneuvering if and when circumstances change. This constant balance between stability and flexibility, and adapting to new environments is the path towards perfection.
Organizations may grow by doing and learn by failing. Failure is not a conscious goal in and of itself, but it is virtually inevitable not to make mistakes or experience shortcomings along the way. A developer knows this very well. Code is rarely perfect from beginning to end – it is an iterative process of testing, failing, and improving the code until it meets the specifications, with the leanest, cleanest code possible. Feedback is the fuel for change and innovation. Fail fast, fix it, and move on.
Every great company, service or product started out with mediocrity. Just take a look at the websites of today’s largest companies when they first were launched. They did not get to the point they are now on day one, nor did it happen automatically.
The pursuit of perfection is an endless road of progress. No matter how far one travels, one can still go further. Nonetheless, progress is real and attainable. This becomes evident when comparing the present condition to the past. Let’s keep moving!