Leadership Message: Perfect is the Enemy of Good

“I can’t believe I messed up.  I froze, Dad!  Don’t you understand?  I froze out there and totally messed up that routine” – Amanda Wright, my daughter

These were the first words my daughter uttered to me Friday night after her high school dance/drill team spring showcase.  Tears were literally flowing down her face as she crawled in the car, her body trembling with emotion and her words staggering in disappointment. 

Stay with me for a minute as I describe the situation.  You see, my daughter is a new member of the high school dance/drill team, called the Markettes.   A short six weeks ago they held their annual try-outs for this cheer dance squad, and she was one of only a dozen freshmen to make this squad.  An avid dancer, she had always dreamed of being a Markette. 

And so here she was, her first performance in front of an auditorium full of fans.  2 hours of choreographed dances, partly designed to give the team a chance to work out the kinks before the fall football season.  And in the middle of one of those dances (her last dance as it turns out), for literally a fraction of a second, she missed one step and her entire evening was ruined.

“I ruined the whole show!  I screwed it up. I don’t know what to do? I am so upset right now I can’t even breathe…” she continued as she sobbed uncontrollably in the front seat of my truck.

As a father, these are the moments that literally break your heart.  Nothing is worse than seeing your daughter in emotional pain.  It hasn’t been the first, and I know it won’t be the last, but it’s still difficult to endure.

But these are also those moments in life where lasting lessons are learned – or rather – earned.  Steel is formed and sharpened only in the crucible of fire and from the pounding of a hammer, and so too are these life lessons.

“Amanda, can I tell you something?” I asked, once she had calmed enough to listen.  “I want to offer you a quote I’ve used time and time again when I face circumstances like this.  And I want you to repeat it back to me three times.  OK?”  My daughter has read enough of my leadership blogs to know that when I offer a quote, there is always a message to follow.  “OK”, she says.

“Perfect is the enemy of good” I said, then again, “Amanda, say it with me – ‘Perfect is the enemy of good”.  Three times I made her repeat it, and then I explained the meaning behind the quote.

And in the following conversation as we rode back to the house, I asked her to calculate the number of minutes in total she danced tonight.  “Daddy, there were so many dances, I don’t know” she said.

“OK”, I said, “Let’s just focus on the dance you feel you messed up in.  How many minutes were in that dance?” 

”Three minutes”, she replied. 

“OK, so that’s 180 seconds, right?  And how many seconds did your missed step last?” I continued. 

“Two or three” was her answer (for the record, it was literally a split second). 

“So, Amanda, what’s 3 divided in to 180?” I asked. 

“1.7%” she mumbled. 

“So, you were 98.3% accurate on that dance, and spot on for the others, right?”

And then there it was – a smile.  An acknowledgement of the reality of her situation.  Put in perspective, she had performed so well that the small misstep seemed trivial.  And yet in her pursuit to be perfect she had missed the other success she’d achieved.  Imagine what would have happened had it not been her last dance of the night? 

Surprisingly, it’s not just the youth that are vulnerable to this trap.  All too often I’ve seen the same mistake made by adults.  In our pursuit to be perfect, we obsess over the mistakes, the unknown, the unanticipated, or the uncertain.  And instead of putting forth a solution that is ‘good enough’, we dither, we contemplate, we question, and we re-work in hopes of finding that perfect solution.

And what is gained in that delay?  What opportunities are missed?  What progress fails to happen?  And what successes are forever lost?  More often than not, good is good enough!

“Perfect is the enemy of good”.  Say it with me three times…

5 thoughts on “Leadership Message: Perfect is the Enemy of Good

  1. I think I agree with you, however in business, our business, striving to be more than good and obsessing over blunders is not really negotiable. Falling short of “The Perfect” outcome for our clients causes tremendous pain all around. I do agree the we “Can’t freeze up” when something falls out of alignment in our customer experience delivery, but the attention to all the details related to that “Perfect Experience” should not be taken lightly in my opinon. Will we always get there 100-percent of the time? No, but that should be the goal in my opinon.

    So I kinda think of it this way. If our dance routine is a bit off today, go home fix it and deliver a recital that pleases the audience tomorrow because if we don’t we may be dancing to empty seats. So, trying always to be better than good on the road to perfection is a goal I strive for.

    Thanks for getting my mind moving before 7 AM Kip!

  2. I love this, Kip! Great message from a Dad to a Daughter, but also, a great message for our teams.


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