Completing not Perfecting

Day 24 Week 4 Q1  Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Yes, creative outliers, we have many common afflictions, and one can be called being paralyzed by perfectionism. In tech companies, the business people almost always have to take the products away from the engineers, who never think they are done because they can always improve whatever they are working on. Artists, musicians, poets, and writers also often feel this way. That is why deadlines were invented. 

Wherever deadlines come from, they are needed.  There used to be trade shows where products had to be exhibited in order to be sold. There are still performances where when the curtain goes up, the performance begins, ready or not. There are agents, clients, customers and everyone with expectations from us. One can only delay for so long.

At some point, we need to switch from perfecting to completing, or we do not get paid, or we get fired, or we do not get promoted, or we just plain fail. I once had a boss who used to tell me, “do not let the perfect be the enemy of the good enough.” And this was in academia, not product development. 

Of course, you can always make things better, or at least you think you can always make things better. It is not always true, by the way. Yes, we can always imagine better than what we have, but this may not be reality. Although creation can be fun or at least all-consuming, there is supposed to be an endpoint. It does not matter how many unmanifested ideas you are carrying around. You get a lot more out of the ones which get out of our minds into people’s hands. In fact, others may like what you did more than you do.

Businesses have to balance their books at the end of the month, day, year, or all of the above. Creative outliers do as well, but accounting applied to ephemerals is not straightforward. Still, we need to find ways to do it. Is it better to have three short books or one long one? Will an audience pay attention to a two-hour piece of music? It is doubtful. 

I am not arguing for quantity instead of quality; I am arguing for reality instead of fantasy. If you try to pull a rabbit out of a hat and fail, should you attempt to pull a lion out of a hat? This is questionable and unwise.

My wife was once in a master class for ceramic artists where the class was divided in half, each given different assignments. One half was told to do the best work they possibly could. The other half was told to produce the largest number of pots they could.  Guess which group produced the highest quality work?

It takes doing things many times to get really good at anything. The more completions you manage, the more likely the quality of what you are doing will rise. And by the way, you do have to throw away the bad stuff. This is true of everything from businesses to relationships, not only works of art or discovery. There is a lot of junk. This is why as you get older, you usually get happier; you learn to get rid of what drags you down. And if you don’t, well, that is on you. 

Get into the habit of finishing. Starting is far easier than finishing, at least it is for me. I love the steep learning curve and adrenalin rush of beginning a new project. But I can tell you that completing is far more satisfying than beginning.