Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Perfectionism: the sixth systemic disease in organizations

A cylinder is pulled through a half-open gutter, again and again and again and again. To minimize friction, they say. It is never good enough.

This is the sixth image of a systemic disease.
Perfectionism is the exorcism of friction, the exorcism of frustration.
Imagine, still something that is not perfect! That could produce irritation. Or criticism. Or disappointment. Or failure. Imagine, being guilty of such things! Worse, shame may be involved. Perfection is the only  way to avoid all these horrors.

The search for the perfect diagnosis makes therapy obsolete. The search for perfect justice creates intolerable delays and byzantine refinements. The search for the perfect job leads to eternal dissatisfaction and job-hopping. The search for the perfect words aborts the manuscript. The search for the perfect partner leads to insupportable singles. The search for the perfect jet fighter leads to wasted billions - which is why the receivers of the billions are all crazy about perfectionism.

Perfectionism is for people who are too refined for reality. It is also a marvellous way to denounce people, their ideas, their proposals, their efforts and their results.

Beware of perfectionists! Flee them, avoid them like the plague. They are like man-eating robots: superior and unrelenting.

Perfectionism in organizations is another systemic disease. It kills humanity, consideration and what is worse: common sense. Organizations delivering top-service or top-products easily become arrogant. Nothing succeeds like success. In the short run, that is. In the long run nothing fails like success. Especially grand, momentous failure make come out of too much success.

Perfectionists have a death wish. They hate life, they hate reality. The real world is messy, people are grubby. Cleanliness may be close to godliness. But too much cleanliness is killing. Perfect plastic surgery creates dolls without character and so without attractiveness.

We can always improve quality, we can always improve productivity, we can always improve profit. Till the clients are satisfied and the makers are satisfied, the banks are satisfied and the neighbors are satisfied. And then we go one step further. And then we stop.

The only perfection that is recommendable is the perfection of being in flow. Robert Pirsig wrote about his fascination with Quality: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Quality, that is what it is all about. Quality, not perfection.

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