The Myth of Perfection

Is it better to be perfect and a little bit late or on time but slightly flawed?

This is an actual question I ask in just about every interview I’ve hosted in the past few years. I’ve probably asked it more than a couple hundred times and in all of those times, only twice has someone answered me the way I wish they all would answer me. Now it doesn’t mean they don’t get the job. After all, I certainly have more than two people working with me but I do find the results of my unconventional survey none-the-less interesting.

The value that I’m desperately looking for in my would-be hires is integrity. Integrity always trumps perfection any day for me. After all, what is perfection other than a warm, caramel brownie sundae with the guy you love on a cool late autumn afternoon in front of a cozy fire? That might be one person’s definition of perfection but not to the person who doesn’t love caramel. And even that Hallmark image comes with its potential flaws. (think dark brownie bits getting stuck between your front teeth and you being obliviously unaware).

Nope, to me, far more important is someone who is going to show up and do what they say they are going to do. That is a value I hold dear. 

The scenario I actually pose in its entirety is this. Say you tell your client that you will get them a quote for their holiday by 4 PM the next day. But, as they say, shit happens. You have every intention of meeting that 4 PM deadline but you wake up in the morning to a call from another set of clients currently stranded in Bangkok. The hotel doesn’t recognize their confirmation number. You’ve been online all afternoon trying to sort out the situation, both with your travel wholesaler, and the hotel directly. Hours have passed, and while you’ve finally found a resolution, it’s now getting close to 4pm and you haven’t finished the quote you promised. I mean….it’s pretty darn close.You are just waiting on a small detail regarding one of the day trips you booked, and in your perfect world, you would add a few more catchy descriptive words that will really wrap things up in a bow. But it’s pretty darn close.

You try calling your client to ask for a grace period but you can’t get in touch with them via cell phone. You just need maybe 20 more minutes. The question becomes…do you take it?

Or…do you send the quote and meet the 4 PM promise minus the fancy Roget’s description of the resort pool and the missing small detail on the day excursion?

So many young travel hopefuls sit across the table from me, wiggle uncomfortably in their seats, desperately trying to gauge my facial expression for hints of the right answer.  Most will take a moment and really think about their response before blurting something out (a good sign). But when the agonizing 60 seconds draws to a close, most will clasp their hands together, smile and tell me that perfection is the most important thing. While they wouldn’t want to be late they feel as though the client will forgive them ultimately once they see their fancy quote but yes…better to be perfect and a little late than a little late and less than perfect. 

But my point has always been…perfect is subjective. Late is a fact. What might seem perfect to someone might be sorely lacking to another. But there ain’t no way you can argue with a missed deadline. 

In that same scenario, if it were me, I would get the quote out by 4 PM as promised. My integrity is paramount and it’s so important that my clients can trust me. We all know…people buy from those they know, like and trust. I would probably mention the fact that I’m still waiting on that one small detail of the day excursion, but I’d save the fancy descriptive words of the pool for my next quote. I’d make up for the missing superlatives in my charming follow-up phone call where I’d wow them with the mental imagery I create with my words. Who knows, maybe I would have come across sounding like a pompous ass describing the pool as a celestial azure floating apparatus.

The fact is, the question regarding perfection versus on-time delivery is telling regarding many real-world examples. So many people get hung up on trying to chase perfection when the concept is at best, elusive. I like the way one of my favourite podcasters, Brooke Castillo, puts it. Be okay with shipping B-minus work. It’s better to get your creation into the world slightly flawed than sit on it for weeks or months or years waiting for some magic fairy to deem your work perfect. Actually, slightly flawed is probably a good thing…with some caveats of course. I mean…you probably want your doctor to nail that appendix removal flawlessly and your hair stylist..a slip of the scissors could have disastrous results to your dating scene but I mean on whole…there is nothing wrong with imperfection. It makes you more relatable.

In fact, my favourite writer Brene Brown wrote an entire book about “The Gifts of Imperfection.” One of my favourite reads of last year. 

And the Japanese use the term “Wabi-Sabi” which loosely translates to beauty can be found in the imperfections. So stop embracing perfectionism over all else and holding it up like a virtuous, shiny cross beyond reproach.

Be true to your word. Always do what you say you are going to do. Obviously, I’m not saying go out and do half-assed work. How you show up still very much matters but show up when you say you are going to show up and do what you say you are going to do. It’s a cornerstone rule that will serve you well not only in your career but generally in life as well.

And if you should ever be sitting across from me in an interview setting, humour also goes a long way which is probably why those many others who didn’t answer this question correctly still got the job. If you can make me laugh, there’s a good chance you are in. Again, people buy from who they Know, Like and Trust. 

And if you say 4 PM, then it better be 3:58.


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