Perfectionism. Gift or curse 2

Junie 21, 2010 in Sonder kategorie

This is an expansion of an earlier contribution


Perfectionism has brought us another and closely associated syndrome; the 1200 dpi mentality. If a photo is printed on an A5 sheet, 1200 dots per square inch reflect more than sufficient detail to see reality as it was at the time the photo was taken. If the photo is enlarged to serve as advertisement for people to see from one kilometre away, one dot per square metre on a poster the size of rugby field may be sufficient, yet perfectionists insist on the costly and time consuming 1200 dpi version. One of the key principles in the new world, called the JED principle, or just enough detail. A little over 2 decades ago when I submitted a proposal for a thesis about the 10th time, the promoter was at last satisfied: “Fantastic. I like this one. I think it is now vague enough.” Detail has its place in the strive to unleash the powers of the new world, but the quest for detail should be reassessed and confined to the applications where they make sense and add value.


When I asked my children they liked most during our recent visit to Disneyworld, my 11 year old son replied: “Everything was just cool. Hell Dad, the whole place talked to me!” Detail doesn’t matter; it is the entire feel or experience that counts.  Sell the total idea, and not individual features. Even the gadget freaks like turnkey solutions.  Imaging a person retarded by the 1200 dpi mentality wants to explore the international and web-driven market. By the time the detail occurs to him, the competitor has filled the small gaps left by perfect reasoning.  Inclusion of detail should always be tested against the following criteria:


  • Is it required? Nice to haves don’t form part of new generation reasoning.
  • Does it add value? Non-value adding activities do not form part of new business thinking.  “Does it directly contribute to the bottom line?” is increasingly asked by CEO’s and FD’s, for the right reasons. Lavishness often found in large bureaucracies is increasingly challenged by market forces. Large scale privatisation throughout the world resulted in efficiencies never thought of before.
  • Does it distract value? Sometimes the time lapse the goes hand-in-hand with the perfecting process actually distracts value; value lost through production losses in the wider sense of the word
  • Can we afford it? Project budgets of late are often based on smaller profit margins to gain competitive edge. Some tenderers accept a break-even position during a fixed tender person and capitalises on gains in selling-off assets at the end of the period.
  • Does it complement the total offering? Just enough detail to compliment the total offering is a challenge in itself, but characteristic of the modern business trend.
  • Can the lack of detail trigger a major unforeseen event


When detail is absolutely necessary? Some of the worse catastrophes in the world happened as the result of oversight of detail. Apollo 16 exploded due to faulty exhaust blocks, an oversight of detail that caused the death of 6 people and the loss of a spaceship worth billions. But JF Kennedy’s vision 25 years earlier to land a man on the moon and to safely return to earth was an idea and a concept that worked, without worries about exhaust blocks at the time. Somewhere lower down the line the detail should be sorted out. Yes, detail is critically important, but don’t ruin a lofty idea with too much detail too soon. You don’t have to be a perfectionist to enjoy a smooth Cabernet from a stylish and perfect Venetian glass.


The project to link England and France with underground railway tunnels is one of the finest examples of detailed and essential project planning, yet a few surprises awaited the multi-professional teams. Unforeseen events resulted in an overspending of close to 100%. Detail is not ruled out, but not all major breakthroughs have a 7-year time horison and a £9 billion credit facility. Perfectionists should not all in all be abandoned from creating big pictures. The best collaborative approach is to mix extreme left and right brain thinkers with people who are so called whole brain thinkers. During the conceptualisation phase, a balanced mixture of talents can be very creative. 


Keep the perfectionists where they can add value and detail when required. Working with objects is a worthy field of application. The mentioned examples illustrate the critical importance of detail relevant to objects.  Working at the mechanical level requires lots of perfectionism. Participation with others on task teams can add value in creating larger wholes of value. They also thrive in analysing problem areas within a faulty system. But a perfectionist in charge of the creative advertising team? Maybe in the next round.


Working with people is a given in almost any field of endeavour. Even Howard Hughes, who sealed himself off from the outside world in later life, could not escape the reality of people in his small world. In his loneliness he still thought of people. They still captured his mind. If a matriculant declares his or her interest to work with people, the poor fellow has hardly eliminated any meaningful alternatives in the large and growing universe of possible jobs. During constant interaction with people in jobs such as training officers, PRO’s, business executives, etc perfectionism in its purest form will be of little help. People are the probably the less perfect creations in the universe. Working in the business environment as a terminally ill perfectionist must be close to hell on earth.


A few eminent people have changed the course of history. The rest follow and try to make sense of the world as it unfolds. Looking at an imperfect world through your perfect spectacles and governed by your tag as perfectionist may result is a less perfect landscape. Monet’s beautiful landscapes will transform into the depressive scribblings of a frustrated business executive in his overfull diary. The mere undertone of perfectionism curtails speed. If you’re in a hurry, you can’t do everything perfect. Perfectionism as a state of mind bluntly ignores the Pareto principle. Why? Simply because most perfectionists hold up the entire process; they are generally slow workers; they are mostly unhappy people; their intentions and outputs are miles apart; they are effective in small areas, but vaporises in the thin air of the larger picture and they don’t realise their mental handicap. The big boss that underlines the few irrelevant typing errors in a creative business proposal with his thick red pen may miss the entire big picture and while the report is being revised, the lean and hungry competitor secures the deal. Just remember that detail is not ruled out, but when detail deliberately restrains the unfolding of larger wholes, the situation should be reassessed.


The insane perfect question needs an insane perfect answer. If all the rough edges are completely rounded off today, what will we be doing tomorrow?

2 antwoorde op Perfectionism. Gift or curse 2

  1. louisna het gesê op Junie 21, 2010

    Hallo therina.

  2. louisna het gesê op Junie 21, 2010

    Soos jy sê.

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