Blog > Perfectionism

February 16, 2010

Dan Pink has a post on perfectionism, that adds another dimension to thoughts I’ve been riffing with Johnnie Moore and David Robinson around what we’re calling The Tyranny of Excellence.

One of the principles of improv is to ‘be average’ – to give yourself permission to stop worrying what others think, do what you do, and allow yourself to shine. David describes it as ‘putting down your clever and picking up your ordinary’. I wrote about it here. This nearly always gets a strong reaction – either ranging from “Yes! At last.” to “Oh, no, that can’t be right.”

Here’s some recent research that Dan cites:

According to research reported in this Miller-McCune article, perfectionism comes in two varieties: adaptive and maladaptive. And one of the key determinants of the type of perfectionism someone displays is whether the quest for perfection is “motivated from an inner urge or an outside push.”

…if you’re pursuing perfection because of pressure from others — parents, bosses, peers — that’s likely to take you down the path of dissatisfaction and reduced well-being.

The Tyranny of Excellence  sets us up to fail. It oppresses us by demanding we be creative, strive for excellence, make the right decision – even the best decision – to not be ordinary. It can be both internally driven, by that small voice telling us we’re an impostor or not ‘good’ enough, or externally driven by feedback and judgement. Is it any wonder that it’s easier then to just do nothing, to give up trying to meet such unreachable standards? And here’s the rub. What is ordinary to me, what I do really well because it is ordinary (to me) may very well seem extraordinary to you (because it’s not ordinary to you).

So it seems it’s a good step to aim for perfection if it’s what you want, not to appease others. And maybe it’s also worth considering the idea of ‘satisficing’ rather than ‘maximising’ as described by Sarah Wilson.

Here’s some of what she wrote:

Then there’s this idea of “satisficing”, a portmanteau of satisfy and suffice, coined by an economist. Satisficing involves making decisions by first selecting criteria that matters most to you, then going with the first option that ticks all such boxes.

Thing is, most of us are “maximizers” – we put off deciding until we’ve examined every possible option, which makes life not unlike a bottomless purgatorial pit. I’d argue our culture encourages us to maximize, to believe a perfect decision exists; it justifies the enless choices consumerism chucks at us. But – quelle irony – research shows satisficers actually make better decisions than maximizers, and are happier to boot.

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