The Perfect Plan (Quote of the Month, October 2010)
A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week.
– George S. Patton
Some things in life have to be done perfectly. For example, in the case of Space Shuttle flight there is not much room for improvisation and therefore it costs a lot more money. Everything has to be checked multiple times and executed without a flaw. Each mistake can have devastating consequences, as damage control is very difficult if not impossible. (Although sometimes with a lot of luck even a nearly disastrous situation can be saved – like with Apollo 13 where in spite of explosion on their spacecraft all members of the crew safely returned to Earth).
However, most everyday situations that we deal with do not require perfection. Good enough is good enough. Perfectionism and striving for certainty in everyday life is a drain on time and energy and often does not even lead to success at all. Let me explain.
High goals and constant improvement are of course a good thing. However, there is a difference between wanting to do something better that ever before (but not beating yourself if you don’t) and not even doing it because you cannot do it perfectly yet. Postponing action because of not being ready yet is often the worst thing to do. Yes, you may fail if you act too soon, but failure can be the best feedback you can have. You learn most by doing something, not by pondering about it. So be ready to fail a lot. And then learn from your failure and adjust your approach accordingly.
Take this very post as an example. When I started to write it, I managed to write about half of it. But I was not satisfied with where I was going; the examples that I included didn’t make much sense to me. That is because when I start writing I may have a general idea of what I want to say, but the details are not clear yet. The path is unfolding in front of me as I write. Sometimes I take a path that I don’t like, and I have to delete large amounts of text, because it is not what I want to say or it does not fit into the context. So, I was not happy with what I wrote and I was even thinking that I may abandon this post and write about something else for this month’s quote. But today, I resumed the work and I managed to rewrite parts of the post, so that now I like it. If I would have been waiting until I knew exactly what my post would say, then I could be waiting until next month, and I still would not know it.
Perfectionism can be in a lot of ways just fear of failure disguised as high standards. Sometimes the fear is real and the avoidance of action is a smart thing to do. That is why you often hear in news that they postponed a rocket launch. Something just wasn’t right and the risk was too big.
But many times the fear is completely irrational. It may be the fear of embarrassment if we would try something and fail miserably. Get over it. Don’t be afraid of failure or embarrassment. Of course, failing for the sake of failing is just stupid and useless. Don’t start with a bad plan. Have a good plan to start, but don’t wait for a perfect plan.