Many creators among us are perfectionists. We call ourselves that. We call ourselves that for a reason, a good reason: we want things to be perfect before we ship them. So, we wait. We whittle. We protect our thing. We work on it some more. We miss deadlines. We push back ship dates. We work harder on our thing. Harder on our thing. Whittling away on our thing. Promise new dates. Keep going with the new dates. Still not really keeping to the new dates. And then, here we are, six months later, and we still have not shipped our thing!
This is the perfectionists typical scenario: forever stuck in the endless loop of perfection. “Stuck’ is the operative word here. We await for our creation to be “just right” or “when I see it’s ready” or “Now, we go!” Only these times seem to rarely come for the perfectionist. It is frustrating for them as well as their fans and supporters. What can they do to help this? Get back to perfection! (Just kidding.)
I make light fun because I used to be one big time perfectionist. Things had to be just so before I would publish, before I would hit ‘Send,’ before I would submit to the boss for approval. It just was what it was, and it hampered both my output and my creativity. I was stuck in the perfectly creative / creatively perfect cycle, whatever my weird vision for that was. I was working, but not freely, constrained by my own shackles of perfection. Worse, it wasn’t fun. I wasn’t having fun. I had great ideas. I was executing on them, but the work was more drudgery then vs. today I find great Joy in the work. Great Joy!
By the way, the Joy doesn’t come from the thing I create — it comes from me. It comes from inside of /me/. I generate it, just like a power plant. This is a wild, empowering idea.
Just like Reverend Brown in ‘Coming to America’ generates and preaches joy. “Joy!” Strange as it might be, try it out.
The 80% Rule.
One of my coaches, Dan Sullivan of The Strategic Coach, coaches his students to create their projects to 80% complete and then ship. Get feedback. See what the market / your people think about it, and then listen. Listen intently, take what you want to take from this feedback, and then iterate forward as you see fit. Then, whittle away on your thing again. And release v2.0.
At first, I found this advice to be off-putting. Who does Dan think he is to tell us Big Shot Creators to create to 80% and then release our wonderful, beautiful children to the wild incomplete like that!? The Hell!? WTF? FFS! Etc.
But then, I thought about it. And thought about it. Thought about the drudgery I had been going through creating and waiting to ship. Holding back. Holding myself back. Waiting on deadlines. Knowing I’d never meet them, and would have to push them back onto the people who were waiting on me to ship my thing. Thought about it some more. And I decided to try it.
Since the majority of my creative work is writing, it made sense to try it out in this space. I care a lot about putting letters together, this creating here, so this is my skin in the game. 80% written seemed — and still seems — rather incomplete to me, but whatever. Let’s go!
So, I wrote to what I found was below-decent on an article for professional publication and I shipped, errors and all. Turns out that the publisher did not hate it. Didn’t like it all so well, but didn’t hate on it that bad, either. I had hammered on that project for only 2 or 3 hours and shipped. It needed maybe another 1 to 1.5 hours’ worth of editing work, then it’d be done. Working the project to 80% done and then ship worked! I was floored. (Still am in certain capacities.)
What’s great about Dan’s 80% Rule is it alleviates, perhaps even ‘cures,’ innate perfectionism in all of us Creators. Perfection even exists in the Entrepreneurs among us, and that is not a good area for perfectionism to be. Entrepreneurs need to act fast, find out what works, put things out into the marketplace, and see whether people want them. Their Ethos: Find out what people want, and give it to them. Some creators could learn from this entrepreneurial mantra.
The Perfectionist Badge
People desiring to be perfect tend to proudly display the perfectionist badge. I should know — I used to tell anyone who would listen I was one as I proudly displayed my badge. I have since handed it back over to the group. It turns out that I never needed the perfectionist badge in the first place. I just needed a new way to work and to ship, a new process to follow, and a coach to advise me and to coach me through trying a new method of hammering on creative work. On any new projects, really.
Here’s a challenge to the perfectionists out there…
With this, I challenge the perfectionists out there to really think hard about their workflow, their processes, their creative ways & methods in general from the 30,000 ft view. I challenge them to consider employing the 80% Rule from Dan. Google it. Look into it. Think about how it can help you be a more prolific creator. Because I postulate that the more we create, the better creator we become. Quantity comes before quality. If you want to be a good writer, you have to write (and read) A LOT. If you want to be a great painter, you have to paint a lot. If you want to be great at pottery, you have to throw (out) a TON of bowls. Even take perfection: to make something near perfect, you have to throw a TON of effort and toil at the thing. The 80% Rule helps to reduce this excess.
There are ancillary benefits to handing over your perfectionist badge. One of my favorite ones is that I am far less neurotic about the work. Less neurosis! Yes! Shipping something incomplete is actually OK. You already know beforehand that you’re intentionally shipping early. Shipping early! Shipping early and incomplete with the idea of seeking immediate feedback on the work. This takes away the pressure from shipping. It isn’t ship when it’s ready — it is ship before it is ready in the effort of reaching out for help. Soliciting your people for advice.
People support what they help to create.
Here’s the awesome thing: people support what they help to create. By giving them a say, a statement, even an opinion on the matter, they now have skin in the game. They’re in on it with you, which means they will be more actively engaged in the final outcome! You build a stronger audience this way. And who doesn’t want a stronger audience?
Look at software engineering. Those pros are constantly shipping and testing code, some daily. Yes, daily. It is a continuous Build-Measure-Learn feedback loop, something we creators can borrow from this domain.
Build. Measure. Learn. Gain Creative Feedback.
I think it is safe to say that we are consistently building and learning every day. We’re perhaps not measuring much in our day because that can be hard to do. Maybe our best measuring stick or units of measurement ought to be early and more frequent feedback from our people, from our patrons. What more do they want from us? What do they want less of from us? What is it that we do that hits home for them? What might they pay more for? How else do we better collaborate with them? Who else do they love that we might learn from? What is it that that person does that we can learn from? The more we measure and learn, the better our creations can be. Then, all of us benefit. All of us, together. (We are in this together, right!?)
What if you didn’t have to agonize about making your creations perfect?
Think hard about your perfectionist ways. Think about what it would feel like if you didn’t have to agonize over making your creations perfect before you ship. Remember that at the heart of your strong desire to make things perfect is the root */To Perfect/*: the act of making things perfect or better. This is an act of iteration. Great software is never perfect; it is simply better than the previous version (we hope).
May you work to free yourself from the self-imposed shackles of perfectionism.
PS: You aren’t going to know how good or not something is until you put it out there for your people to consume. Perfect is subjective.