Defend Against Perfectionism

creative cultivationPerfectionism is striving for the perfect name or to explore the perfect idea. Unfortunately, it can stall progress, like treading water versus moving forward. Workers who are both passionate and proud of their pursuits are prone to this affliction.

I hear this complaint so often from creative friends and colleagues that I have to wrestle its pervasiveness. (Please see my segment in the Idea Initiator that is a tool for development, “Temper Perfectionism.”) I have some advice for the afflicted:

Defenses Against Perfectionism

glass collection from Liane Sebastian1. Determine if the audience will notice the correction or improvement. If it will affect the sale, the acceptance, the attendance, or the popularity, then it is worth doing. But if only you will notice, it is not worth doing. Rely on what matters to the recipient.

glass collection from Liane Sebastian2. Test the idea. A new project takes time to germinate. Creating spinoffs or related projects too soon can dilute efforts. Use feedback collected to further develop. It is best to start small and simply to build a foundation for later ideas. Taking it one step at a time creates a sustaining approach.

glass collection from Liane Sebastian3. Take a break. Get away to gain perspective. Priorities become much clearer after a good night of sleep or an escape into another environment. Even if there is not a lot of time, check out my Top 10 Ways to Gain Quick Perspective post. Even a short time doing something else can be enough to gain fresh eyes.

glass collection from Liane Sebastian4. Know what will haunt you. If everytime you look at the finished product, you will focus on the flaws, then accept the extra steps of refinement. However, if the polishing does not affect the purpose of the project, it is not worth spending the time on. This can be the hardest point for the perfectionist. Try to discern the difference between personal opinion and audience opinion.

glass collection from Liane Sebastian5. Look at the next priority. If the current task to fix a flaw in a finished project thwarts the future excitement and momentum of what must be done next, get rid of the obstacle. With way too many things to do, taking the next task by priority is survival through distractions.

glass collection from Liane Sebastian6. Compensate. Draw attention away from imperfections by making sure the rest of the project shines. Mistakes seem small and easier to forgive when care is applied to the rest. Know what matters the most in the project and make sure the big things are taken care of.

glass collection from Liane Sebastian7. Commit. Bite the bullet. Decide to support the concept and accept execution. Better to do the right things poorly than the wrong things perfectly! Keep a focus and judge distractions harshly to stay on target. Know when it is time to let go.

glass collection from Liane Sebastian8. Declare that “The Buddah Didn’t Do It.” When oriental carpets are woven, often imperfections are created purposely to keep craftsmen humble and to not compete with the divine. Later mistakes in large projects may be discovered and deserve attention only if injurious.

glass collection from Liane Sebastian9. Move on. There is endless merit in a man’s knowing when to have done.” —Thomas Carlyle. In a world where communication are never done—even these tips get updated occasionally—keeping all avenues updated is in itself an achievement.

Liane Sebastian, illustrator, designer, writer, and publishing pioneer


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One Response to “Defend Against Perfectionism”

  1. Idea Incubator 11: Temper Perfectionism « Idea Initiator Says:

    […]  5. Identify the imperfections that you itch to correct. Run them through a pro/con analysis, match them to priorities, and practice defense (see Cultivate C reativity’s “Defenses Against Perfectionism“). […]

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