Whether one likes it or not, risk taking is necessary in the business world. Besides the obvious worst case scenarios, much can be gained (or learned) by giving your idea a chance. After all, innovation and opportunity are tied to taking risks.¹ Ask any great business owner and they can tell you about a time when they took a leap of faith. Maybe they fell, maybe they flew but, regardless of the outcome, that leap was necessary for them to move forward.
The ability to understand when it’s time to take that leap, despite potential failure, is crucial to getting ahead. Of course preparation cannot be neglected, but the planning stage can only take one so far. Action is what counts. But something holds many individuals back from taking that first step: perfectionism.
The 80/20 Rule
A well known principle for operating your business in the most optimal way is the 80/20 rule. After observing that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by only 20% of the population, Italian philosopher Vilfredo Pareto noticed that this imbalance between inputs and outputs could be found in several aspects of life, including business.² Whether it be that 20% of customers account for 80% of sales or that 20% of factories produce 80% of the pollution, this distribution is common.²
At the risk of repeating the point, the most important takeaway, is that 20% of your actions produce 80% of your results. Those who understand this adjust their priorities accordingly and spend their energy on the projects that matter most. This seems easy to implement, right? Well, for perfectionists, it's quite the opposite. Since they hold themselves to the standard of producing top quality work for 100% of tasks, they are unable to spend their time in the most optimal way. While 80% of results come from 20% of actions, 80% of their time is spent obtaining just 20% of results. Obtaining perfection is simply not worth their time or effort and this lack of efficiency is often detrimental to success.
“Perfectionists are cowards.” -Seth Godin
Too harsh? Perfectionism is considered a disorder by some and we don’t think that’s far off. The immense pressure perfectionists put on themselves to achieve overly high standards often holds them back from accomplishing anything at all. Being unable to settle for anything less than 100%, no matter the cost or time it requires, causes them to miss windows of opportunity.³ The conscientiousness and quality of work of perfectionists are perceived as positive attributes but, in the end, they can have more negative consequences.⁴ Seth Godin, entrepreneur and author, shares similar feelings on the condition. To him, perfectionism is rooted in fear:
“The perfectionist is afraid. Afraid of letting go, and worse, afraid of hearing back about the work.” -Seth Godin⁴
Plan a Road Trip
One strategy to take that first step and push past the fear is to approach projects like a road trip. Imagine you’re driving from Vancouver to Montreal. Before departure, you will ensure your car is in good order, pack any items you may need, and plan your route. However, planning every single turn and stop along the way would not be worth the effort. You never know when you’ll encounter a road closure or an attraction you didn’t know was there. Being able to adapt and think on your feet is crucial and the hiccups can result in some very exciting discoveries along the way.
Applying this mindset to business plans can prove beneficial. In marketing, it is wise to plan content in advance, however one can never 100% predict new trends or future events that should shape your marketing strategy enroute. Spontaneous content can often be the most impactful and too-rigid planning prevents one from capitalizing on what could be a successful endeavour. It is important to have defined objectives, but the way you achieve them may change in ways you cannot predict at the beginning. Important lessons can be learned by the occasional misstep forcing a route adjustment that can lead to even bigger accomplishments.
Undoubtedly, taking risks is daunting but the key to getting ahead is daring to take that first step; those who wait will be left in the dust. Striving for perfection, more often than not, leads to missed opportunities and is detrimental to business success. Do your best, but don’t wait until perfection is reached - you may be waiting awhile. As the ancient proverb advises, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with but a single step.”⁵
1. Bisson, Marie-Anne. "How To Take Better Risks For Entrepreneurial Success." Entrepreneur. January 28, 2021. Accessed February 08, 2021. https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/364331.
2. Kruse, Kevin. "The 80/20 Rule And How It Can Change Your Life." Forbes. March 08, 2016. Accessed February 08, 2021. https://www.forbes.com/sites/kevinkruse/2016/03/07/80-20-rule/?sh=324da3cc3814.
3. Swider, Brian, Dana Harari, Amy P. Breidenthal, and Laurens Bujold Steed. "The Pros and Cons of Perfectionism, According to Research." Harvard Business Review. November 26, 2019. Accessed February 08, 2021. https://hbr.org/2018/12/the-pros-and-cons-of-perfectionism-according-to-research#:~:text=Studies have also found that,clearly impair employees at work.
4. Godin, Seth. "Perfectionism (has Nothing to Do with Perfect)." Seth Godin. November 17, 2020. Accessed February 08, 2021. https://sethgodinwrites.medium.com/perfectionism-has-nothing-to-do-with-perfect-157f87861b46.
5. Lau-tzu. "Thoughts on the Business of Life." Forbes. Accessed February 08, 2021. https://www.forbes.com/quotes/5870/.