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I left a recent meeting wondering if I had delivered perfectly.  As I reflected on that mind musing, I thought to myself “Is this what my goal in work has become?” – A good friend of mine shared that perfection is the impossible goal. Yet so many of us pursue the impossible goal of perfection.

Perfection is an unrealistic goal.  Perfection is a ‘smack to the face’ of process and progress. Perfection becomes a goal when a person is seeking greater certainty than business and life can provide.  According to research it is estimated that human beings make 773,618 decisions in a lifetime and make about 143,262 mistakes.  In business, it is assumed that for every 100 actions a business takes about 10 of those actions will be errors.

So if perfection is an illusion and mastery is not obtained until we have spent 10,000 hours on a task (according to Gladwell) then what should our mindset be when approaching our work?

The first critical mindset is to evaluate the realism of our goals.  If our goal is to be perfect and the goal is impossible, the outcome becomes anger, frustration and self-deprecation.  Instead, change the goal from perfection to progress.

One of my clients recently undertook a project to enhance a part of their HR processes.  The goal of the client was perfection, which included the document itself and the absolute acceptance of the new process by employees.

If you evaluate the above goals it is clear that these goals are unrealistic.   Instead a more realistic goal would be progress or improvement on the current HR process.

The second critical mindset to consider is a process to follow when you do make mistakes.  Consider the following the process below:

Step #1: Assess the negative impact of the mistake (1 – 5) – when you make a mistake consider the impact of the mistake 1- Low and 5- High.

Step #2: Assess your response (mentally or behaviorally) – (1 – 5) For this scale, 1 is a excellent response or positive and 5 is a negative response. What is the difference between the actual impact of the mistake and your response to the mistake? The delta is where we self-deprecate, become critical or become tired from overanalyzing the mistake.

Step #3: Action the mistake to resolve – based on your answer to Step #1 – take ownership of the mistake and move toward resolution.  Make the client situation better, fix the error on the document or have the conversation with the co-worker.

Step #4: Embrace Your Emotions vs. Trying To Remove Them – emotions are just part of the process.  Investigate why you are feeling the way you are feeling and seek to understand.

Step #5: You are responsible to resolve the mistake- you are not responsible for the emotional response of the people impacted by the mistake.  This nuance is critical to you being able to successfully resolve the error.

The third mindset for you to consider is your level of individual growth.  The quadrants below outline the levels of consciousness:











Quadrant I – Unconsciously Incompetent – Mantra “You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know” – You are not aware that you do not know what you are doing.  You have just moved into the new position and are starting to work in a new technology system.  Here the mistake multiplier is about 3x as high as it would be in the next quadrant.  Why? – because you are new to the position.

Do you remember that new skateboard or bike you received as a child? You did not know how to do it when you first jumped on the board.  You were unconscioulsly incompetent – you did not know the first thing about riding a bike and how difficult it would be.

Quadrant II – Consciously Incompetent – Mantra “I Know What I Don’t Know” – you have made progress and are very aware that you do not know the industry you are working in.  This is your first job or new role.  The great advantage to being in this role is that you typically embrace the learning curve and know the questions to ask to learn.  The mistake multiplier is about 1.5x the normal range.

Quadrant III – Consciously Competent – Mantra “I have to think about what I do and I am starting to do it well.”

You are now competent in the role you play each day.  You are aware of each step in the process that allows you to be successful.  This consciousness is just one step away from being in the zone.  The mistake multiplier is about .5x because you know how to avoid mistakes and you have developed a process to minimize the mistakes.  It is important that you utilize the mistake process outlined above to keep learning.

The drawback to this quadrant is that you are gaining confidence and you may think that you have arrived and may be less likely to embrace growth and development.

Quadrant IV – Unconsciously Competent – Mantra “I do not have to think about what I am doing and I get great results regularly.” The drawback is boredom and not pushing yourself outside your comfort zone.

Remember perfection is an illusion and process & progress are reality.