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Is perfectionism the biggest barrier to excellence?

Everyone knows a perfectionist – someone who looks at their work and focuses on the smallest flaw rather than the excellence of the whole.

It’s a valuable trait when it comes to cutting diamonds, tightrope walking, or neurosurgery. But in day to day work, perfectionism can be a barrier.

Sometimes you need to launch before something is perfect. (The exception perhaps – the sanitation systems on the upcoming Mars missions.) One of the best examples of an ‘imperfect’ launch was the unveiling of the first iPhone in 2007. Despite having worked on the project for three years, the team didn’t have a perfectly working prototype for Steve Jobs to demonstrate to the 3000 invited guests at the Apple product conference.

The iPhone prototype could play part of a song or a video, but it would often crash before reaching the end. It worked fine if you demonstrated sending an e-mail and then surfing the Web, but if you showed those features in reverse it might quit.

The engineers on the iPhone team ended up designing what they called a “golden path” – a specific order for features to be demonstrated. Only by following this order did the iPhone properly show all its features. Even with this victory, near the end of the demonstration the remote control for the presentation stopped working and had to be fixed. (In the words of the Pretenders, “nobody’s perfect, not even a perfect stranger.”)

Striving for perfection in your day to day has to be tempered with realism. Prospect helps thousands of people achieve their employment goals every year. The paths vary, but rarely does a perfect opportunity or perfect employment match occur. Setbacks are opportunities for learning and resilience. With accommodation on both sides, excellent results can be achieved.

For example, last month we helped an older client overcome narrow experience and a lack of confidence to transition to an entirely new industry. He cited the mock interviews, encouragement, and enthusiasm of his Prospect Career Advisor as factors in his success.

Another client who had been laid off from a position as an Inventory Team Lead followed his Career Advisor’s advice, re-targeted his resume, and secured employment as a Logistics Coordinator. Similarly, we were able to help an unemployed tutor with mobility issues to obtain a computer and find employment as an online instructor with a private school.

Of course, there are situations where we find a seemingly perfect fit for a client. In September a client who was underemployed in an unfulfilling job approached us. He had a background in customer service and sales and was lacking confidence. His Prospect Career Advisor had a talk about his experience and how he could apply his people skills to find a job better suited to his background. He also helped the client reconfigure a digital friendly resume emphasizing his customer service and sales skills. A mock interview and other prep work helped him ace “the easiest interview” he’d ever had. He is now far more fulfilled in a sales job for a service company.

Focusing on excellence, rather than perfection, might be the best strategy in this challenging economy.

Prospect Human Services is a registered charity.