Ps and Qs Education

For that perfect moment

I was once told I’m a perfectionist. For a few moments, I thought it was a lovely endorsement of the way I approached various aspects of life. But I was quickly corrected: “That’s not a compliment, you know.”

It took me a while to come to terms with that. Perhaps seeking perfectionism was a weakness, after all. There was (and is) a lot of literature and business research endorsing that view: Perfection is a myth; perfectionists tend to slow down processes; they are intolerant of failure and, therefore, more prone to stress; and so on. Reading about all these confident conclusions, it was easy to agree — even if only reluctantly — that striving for perfection was, indeed, futile.

However, is seeking perfection as illusory or frustrating as chasing a mirage? And even if so, is it such a bad thing? Yes, in life, we may end up becoming disillusioned or repeatedly disappointed, because we may not live up to our own extraordinary and unjustified expectations. We may forget we are human. In my view, the word, “human” is reasonably synonymous with “imperfect”.

But when we seek perfection in projects we pursue or in the jobs we take up, we are attempting to provide a service or create a product that is flawless. The end goal is to do something well. Even the mistakes we make in the process are intended to perfect the process. Certainly, there has to be a tolerance for human error and compassionate support systems must exist in the workplace too. At the same time, there must be clear limits we set for ourselves — one cannot afford to make repeated mistakes. This is where perfection as a destination can help us: It can serve as a stop sign when we are approaching an accident, while drawing the best from us.

As members of an organisation, a flawless service or product we create demands long-term research, preparation, tested processes and, of course, intangible elements like commitment, patience and a certain degree of passion. I work for a company where I see engineers coming up with the most amazing technology solutions all the time. Aren’t the engineers you know seeking perfection when they create products? Who wants a piece of software or hardware that malfunctions? Or an imperfect bridge or a faulty car?

Engineers and creators all over the world must be guided by standards of perfection and excellence, which help them provide a service meaningfully. An imperfect product can not only turn customers away, but may also end up harming them. As consumers, all of us look for products that receive the highest ratings. We feel more confident when we see signs of recognition and certification — provided those are valid and trusted. A company or a team that understands this consumer behaviour will, therefore, recognise that a perfectionist ideal helps us serve others in the manner they deserve to be served.

Now, innovators, writers and artists can argue that perfection is impossible — because innovation is a continuous process. Could it be, then, that there are progressive degrees of perfection? And perhaps those degrees are also subjective? Because my sense of perfection could be different from yours and even the artist’s. A painting is complete when it’s perfect in the artist’s eyes. A poem or a piece of writing is complete when it’s ‘perfected’ over a period of time. This is why we call for continuous improvement in the journey towards excellence and perfection. Innovators and creators of the next big thing are always looking for ways to make a perfect product better. Perhaps, “better” is better than the best.

So, as professionals, how do we strike a balance? We would need to observe how we approach our daily tasks; to recognise the projects where we cannot afford any errors. As someone recently told me, a surgeon can make zero errors. A surgery has to be perfect in order to produce the desired outcome. Similarly, in our work situations, there would be scenarios where a mistake can prove to be costly. There may also be situations where we must learn to be happy with “better” and not “the best”. Even if only temporarily. This recognition will help us in maintain a balance.

To conclude, I do not believe perfectionism is a myth. I think recognising, understanding and participating in the pursuit of perfection will help us become better at what we do.

The author is a writer and literary journalist. She also heads Corporate Communications at UST. Views expressed are personal. Contact her at

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Printable version | Nov 27, 2021 8:59:32 PM |

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