The Perfectionist’s Dilemma — Perfection is the Enemy of Progress

By William Flanagan
Modified July 6, 2021, Posted in

The Perfectionist’s Dilemma: Introduction

The Perfectionist’s Dilemma is nearly universally applicable for all settings. Of course, it affects us marketeers as well. Because we are creators.

We market with content. We market with storytelling and publishing.

This means that we need to produce content, on a schedule, ready for publishing. Maybe as a whitepaper or reference material. Maybe as a blog post. Maybe as entertaining morsels for the various social media networks. And so forth.

This puts pressure on us. And, this pressure can lead to the ultimate writer’s block.

Where suddenly we produce…..NOTHING.

What is the stumbling block? Well, usually the culprit is our strive for perfection. Leading us down a slippery slope to what is known as ‘The Perfectionist’s Dilemma’.

What is the perfectionists’s dilemma?

The perfectionists among us will be very familiar with the concept of ‘the Perfectionist’s Dilemma’.

That we can be our own worst enemies. That what keeps us from creating our best work, or sometimes just keeps us from creating full stop — is us. Our need for perfection. Our inability to let go of something and determine it done. Ready for your audience. After all, a creation that never sees its intended audience is meaningless.

How can your perfect buyer find your product, if it is never put out there for him to find?

This is the Perfectionist’s Dilemma.

“The perfectionist dilemma is when a creator values the quality of a finished product such to the extent that it inhibits their ability to iterate, change, and even produce.”

Adam Miller on Medium.com

I put my thoughts on the Perfectionist’s Dilemma in a handy graphic. See below.

perfectionist's dilemma

Our need to produce valuable and effective marketing content means that we are essentially in the publishing business. We have to publish. Publication is both goal and strategy for marketing our business.

But, not only do we have to produce content. We have to do so on a regular schedule. In essence, we have to become a publishing machine.

To be able to function as a publishing machine, we need to let go of any obstacle in our way. And the biggest hindrance there is is perfection.

Perfection is the enemy of progress.

How can we beat the Perfectionist’s Dilemma?

We need to shift our mindset from “everything has to be perfect” to “this is good enough to go out”.

We need to train ourselves to move faster, to focus on the essentials, and to be willing to make mistakes. Yes, mistakes. Because with mistakes we get better. We learn from mistakes. And, we grow by disregarding our fear of being perceived as anything less than perfect.

Training ourselves to let go of perfection is not easy. Because for so long we have been conditioned to strive for perfection in everything we do. We are fearful of creating something that is not perfect, not ‘right’, not up to the standards that we and society have put out there.

We are so fearful of potentially making mistakes that we standstill. We are overly cautious and exacting. Yet, especially in today’s digital world, we cannot afford to be so. We have to produce. We have to create. We have to publish.

Mind you, it doesn’t mean that we send crap out into the world. It only means that we set the bar for content to be published to a lower setting than ‘perfect’. Instead, opt for ‘good enough’. Not perfect. Good.

Why? Because of Pareto.

What is the Pareto Principle?

The 80-20 rule, also known as the Pareto Principle is an aphorism which asserts that 80% of outcomes (or outputs) result from 20% of all causes (or inputs) for any given event.

Investopia.com

The Pareto Principle holds for almost everything. 80% of your output comes from 20% of your efforts. It is the last 20% that consumes 80% of your time and effort.

Being mindful of the Pareto Principle as a business means engaging in a two-step strategic thinking process. First, your goal should be to determine the inputs that are potentially the most productive and effective in moving your company forward. Second, then make the inputs that you have identified the priority. Meaning, spend your time, effort, and dollars on the factors that are critical to your success.

For the others, good enough is good enough.

The Perfectionist’s Dilemma: Conclusion

This is why perfection is the enemy. We can spend hundreds of hours on something that we can and should get done in three.

Your time and money are valuable. Free it up to focus on what really matters. And, don’t fret over the other stuff. Just get it done.

Remember, progress is not the result of endless over-thinking. Rather, progress comes from action. From doing. From sending your creation out towards your intended audience. See the responses, the feedback. Refine your process, your content, your output. And then do it again.

Action. Moving forward. Producing.

So, if you find yourself polishing the same piece of content, again and again, ask yourself:

Why am I polishing this again?

Does this REALLY matter?

10+ years of marketing agency experience. 10+ years (4 exits) of VC-funded startup experience. Dad. Musician. Coffee-lover. E-bike aficionado.
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