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Perfectionism—Use it Like a Tool

On  an  episode of Well Read, Elizabeth Gilbert makes the interesting case that perfectionism is really fear (starting at 6 minutes, 58 seconds).  She also addresses this in her blog post about avoiding the perfectionism trap, where she states “…I think perfectionism is just a high-end, haute couture version of fear.”

When I heard her thoughts,  it made me think about my past experiences working with perfectionists, and it rang a bell.  Gilbert’s context is perfectionism while being creative, but I still think we “analytical people” have something to learn from this. Have you ever had trouble getting started on something new?  Or, worked with someone who wouldn’t show you their work until it was perfect, but they’ve gone the wrong direction and wasted a lot of time?  We all know a great technique for elicitation is to throw a straw man model out there and let people “fix” it.  A straw man will not and should not be perfect; making it hard for some perfectionists to use this valuable technique.

In short, there are times when what we do is creative, and being burdened by perfectionism has no benefit.  We must learn to abandon it when it does not serve us well.  As Gilbert notes, “At some point, you really just have to finish your work and release it as is—if only so that you can go on to make other things with a glad and determined heart.”

On the other hand, I do want my medical, transportation, etc., devices to be seek perfection. So, I’m not advocating the abandonment of perfectionism, but merely to treat it as a tool we use when appropriate.

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