Jim Collins is credited with the line, “Good is the enemy of great.” I would like to add another axiom: “Perfection is the enemy of excellence.” Now, don’t get me wrong, there are clearly areas where perfection should be the minimum standard. If my surgeon is doing surgery on what’s inside my skull or the pilot is landing the plane in which I am a passenger, I want absolutely zero defects. No hospital would get away with a goal of 99.9% accuracy rate on the number of dropped babies!
Most service situations are not about these rare requirements for perfection. As customers, we know that to err is human and service is generally delivered by humans. While we all marvel when a service performance is as smooth and flawless as a well-oiled machine, we emotionally connect with service providers who strive for doing their very best on our behalf, even if they sometimes miss the mark.
To quote Norman Vincent Peale, “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you end up among the stars.”
The challenge with the pursuit of service perfection (with a hat tip to the brain, pilot, and baby dropping exceptions) is it can slow momentum or stop progress. While, “Good enough for government” work might signal an acquiescence to mediocracy, the standard my son uses—“It’s not picture day”—telegraphs we do our very best and move on, not worrying about the form of perfection but enjoying the substance of excellence.
“I gave up my struggle with perfection a long time ago,” wrote actress Anne Hathaway. “That is a concept I don’t find very interesting anymore. Everyone just wants to look good in the photographs. I think that is where some of the pressure comes from. Be happy. Be yourself, the day is about a lot more.”
Your customers enjoy happy and authentic service providers, not those who slow down the process through their myopic pursuit of “It has to be perfect.” Customers know that a “perfection obsession” can be an obstacle to improvement and never-ending improvement is tantamount to growth. Lighten up, do your best, and remember to save perfection for a rare picture day. Confucius said: “Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.”