by Rob White
Since arriving in Davis, I have heard the saying “perfection is the enemy of good” or some variation on that theme many times. It has been used by city council members at council meetings, civic leaders during presentations and community members during blog posts.
But I would like to look at it from another angle… what if perfectionism causes the community to lose out on a perfectly good opportunity? Let me explain.
I was recently reading an article on the online version of Inc. Magazine and came across an article titled “How Perfectionism Can Hold You Back,” by Lolly Daskal.
Daskal asks the question “are you a perfectionist?” And I think many of us might smirk a little when reflecting on this idea personally. As she points out, “for many people it’s a point of pride.” But then Daskal makes the statement that perfectionism “may be keeping you from reaching your highest potential.”
She makes the case that by “constantly doing everything perfectly and perform[ing] everything flawlessly, you may think you’re being effective and efficient. But sometimes it’s the imperfect performances that demonstrate your greatest potential.”
Daskal goes on to describe eight reasons how “the drive for perfection can be your worst enemy.” She states that “when you’re perfect, you”…
1. Don’t take risks;
2. Insist on going by the book;
3. Not developing;
4. Can’t push the envelope;
5. Aren’t open to new ideas;
6. Cannot adapt to new situations;
7. Thrown by unexpected demands; and
8. Can’t adopt new strategies.
Though Daskal’s points are primarily focused on the detriments from personal perfectionism, I think we can all recognize how these same eight outcomes can be a detriment to our city by community-based perfectionism.
Currently, we are having public discussions on topics as varied as how to close the city’s budget shortfalls, fix and replace infrastructure, create new revenues, increase local job opportunities and ensure a bright future for Davisites. And in each of these topics there is a wide spectrum of opinions and views. Some views are obviously self-serving, some claim to be based on whole-systems thinking and some are genuinely trying to wrestle with a complex subject in an imperfect system.
What is certain is that no single outcome to these complex issues will make everyone ‘happy’. So it is equally important to note is that there really cannot be one perfect solution, because perfect depends on your personal views and values, and in the world of policy, is subjective at best.
So perhaps the Davis community is best served in not trying to be perfect, or waiting for a perfect outcome to any of these topics, but instead being creative and innovative enough to try multiple imperfect solutions that may result in a collective outcome that is more perfect than we may have realized possible.
Let’s take the example of a growing structural deficit for the city’s budget – even small actions now can have significant positive impacts in the future. If we encourage downtown revitalization and reuse, we most certainly can add to the city’s revenue base through increased property values and retail spending.
For many, these types of changes have (and will) positively enhance the community’s downtown experience. And most Davisites would probably agree that the downtown has gotten better over the last few decades as reinvestment and revitalization have occurred. Though no one project or activity was perfect in scope (nor universally acceptable), as a whole our downtown has increased in beauty through the implementation of broad-based amenities.
Using the downtown as a template, perhaps we should think about how we might approach our other community-wide discussion topics. Perhaps there is no perfect set of ordinances, project requirements or regulations that will result in perfect outcomes. Maybe we learn as a civilization by doing, then course-correcting as we discover the unintended consequences and amplifying the positive outcomes.
Because as Daskal points out, the most significant reason perfectionism is self-destructive comes down to the fact that “there is no such thing as perfect.” We can’t obtain what doesn’t really exist, but we can be flexible, creative, innovative and resilient as a community.
Thanks for reading. Your thoughts are always welcome. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org if you choose to email me directly or you can follow me on Twitter @mrobertwhite.