Authenticity vs. Perfection

Day 277 Week 41 Q4  Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Samba Version of Anniversary

Perhaps a dangerous topic?  Many of us creative outliers have been paralyzed at one time or another by perfectionism. Perhaps some of you have even been told, as I have been, “Don’t Let the Perfect be the Enemy of the Good”?  When you are an employee you hear that more often than when you work for yourself, one reason for diminishing-return creative types’ preference to work for themselves. When you are self-employed, you are free to be paralyzed by perfectionism until you have to pay the bills.

I think there is an alternative to this diminishing returns continuum between slow perfecting and fast loosy goosy.  Seriously, it can be very difficult to know when to stop unless someone else is taking your project away and declaring it done. This is not a punishment but fulfilling a need. Say you are working on completing some sort of artwork like a painting or a symphony, there comes a time when the customer, representative, patron, or someone else says – I need this thing now. So, finish it. It can be the sales folks coming down to engineering and saying we have to deliver the order, or the conductor saying, “we have a performance next Thursday and rehearsals start on Monday, so give us the score.

An alternative in these digital homogenized times is to be activated by authenticity. Did your tempo vary in the recording of that performance? Well, if everyone was doing it together and not getting out of sync, that is perfectly fine because it is authentic. When a computer, click track, or producer-engineer controls the flow of the music, as is often the case now in 2022, there is absolutely something that was lost in achieving that metronomic perfection. What is lost is authenticity. Unlike photographs, paintings do have brush strokes and unlike machine-made music, the human tempo does vary. These are signs of a human being involved in the creative process. And just as a piece of pottery shows the thumbprint of the person who dipped the ceramic in the glaze is an indicator that a person, not a machine made this ceramic, evidence of imperfection is often a clue that a human being, not a machine produced this result.

In a time when machines can correct pitch and tempo and sound pressure level to make for a more homogenized and slicker result to my mind, it is not an improvement to the times when some old person in the boonies played the blues on a guitar that might have been missing a string or be slightly out of tune. Some very compelling performances were of pieces of music with a single chord or maybe three. This is not a slam against complexity and sophistication. Instead, this is a slam against perfection washing away authenticity. 

The next time you are feeling the need to perfect something and running out of time or money or motivation, consider the possibility that perhaps what you have done is a more authentic representation of who you are and what you are expressing which is decidedly not that likely to be perfect or rather even if you do not think it is perfect others may love it because of its authenticity. 

Cookie cutter rows of identical houses and modern automobiles which all look the same even when made in Asia, America, or Europe is not a big win for me. Remember as machines get better and better at repeatable perfection it will be the imperfections that are indicators of authenticity and humanity. Try to avoid sanitizing your output to all look, feel, and operate the same as the person next to you.

The best lyrics are not grammatically perfect. The most interesting faces are not devoid of asymmetry. Even the car you own which may have scratches or dents caused by you is what differentiates it in the parking lot at the mall where there may be dozens of identical models.

This is not to say run away from perfecting your work. It is to say some of the time the imperfections are what make it yours and these differentiators may even contribute to your unique brand, style, and value.