Perfection is worth risking your company and your job

Fight the culture of cutting corners.


Photo: Alexandre Dulaunoy (Some rights reserved)

1. Perfection is always in fashion

We are paid to get it right. That is how I was trained. Typos were not tolerated. Never-mind out-and-out mistakes. It was built into our organisational culture. But we live in a world of risk and it is surprisingly easy to let mistakes slide. At least for a while. And as Peter Drucker (famously allegedly) once said:

culture eats strategy for breakfast.

"Risk management". That's the euphemism that we use at work when we want to do the wrong thing. Or the easy thing. When the hard thing is the right thing. I may be an outlier on this issue. But I think that true risk management starts with the perfect solution. And we should only accept (minor changes to) perfection. We should not accept second best. Or that our only option is to accept the average.

It doesn't matter the industry. For me, it is a contract for a major project where I would not change a single word in a single clause. Or a software program when I know. Just know. That I won't change it no matter how long I stare at the lines and lines of code.

2. Compromise means do it almost perfectly. Not do it wrong.

"Boiling the ocean". That's how we criticise our colleagues for taking the time to do it right. And of course, of course, we should consider reasonable compromises to reduce costs, and rapidly solve problems. But as Shawn Blank says:

Average, “good enough” work is no longer good enough. Our success, our products, and our reputations all rest on the details, the delight, the intention, and the vision we bring to our work.

If I start with the easy, wrong, answer. Or even the assumption of failure. Then I don't learn. But worse than that, the problem always returns. Eventually and magnified.

3. Embrace perfection

Insisting on perfection at work is very hard in practice. And I realise that I may be in the minority here. But as Bruce Schneier says:

[o]f course, it’s actually more complicated than that. A person might decide to break the norms ... because his moral compass tells him to ... [and] sometimes we decide a norm breaker did the right thing.

Let's stop using "risk management" as code for hiding the broken. Or accepting poor work (or even failure) as inevitable. Because the greatest risk to our companies and our jobs is the embrace of mediocrity.

Instead, let's risk striving for (minor deviations from) perfection.

This post originally appeared at Thanks to Josh Morris for reviewing an early draft. These opinions are mine. They are not necessarily those of my employer.