Maybe you have heard this: Sets low standards. Achieves same. Or this: Good enough for government work. I find both phrases tediously trite and possibly insulting. But, I’ve cheerfully used both. How about, practice makes perfect? I later heard it as, perfect practice makes perfect.
As that quality assurance guy for government contracts, I was very busy, never bored, and often unloved by contractors. They did not have to be perfect, but they did have agreed to, measurable standards to meet. Nobody likes it when “shit don’t work like it’s supposed to.”
As I write this, I’m sitting in the Tap Room of my local microbrewery sipping an excellent porter. I shall have another. It’s good and reasonably priced, but it’s not perfect. Perfect beer cannot be improved upon.
Perfection, by definition, cannot be made better.
Rarely do I say the word or identify something as perfect. When I do, I’m lying. Perfect works best when it’s said sarcastically and implying the exact opposite: FUBAR (definition below).
My strained relationship with the word perfect started with software – Word Perfect. It was not. Later, the word and the connotation it held annoyed me. Years ago, I decided that perfection was not a realistic or achievable standard. I developed a skeptical dislike for the word. When I heard someone say progress, not perfection, I liked that. Who does not want things to improve?
As part of my prep to write about this, I watched a couple of TED talks that only served to piss me off. With apologies to all her fans, Elizabeth Gilbert has a talent for making me want to bang my head on the nearest wall. Her following is vastly larger than mine, but I still think she’s out there. I like and admire her, but I strongly disagree on many levels with her views on creativity and writing. She makes me feel guilty, and I’m not sure why.
The other TED talk was by a man named Jon Bowers. Jon was (I assume he is) the lead on UPS training. Indeed, he does good work and as a professional trainer myself, I can relate to the challenges his company faces. The title of his talk was, We should aim for perfection – and stop fearing failure.
I interpret that title as, Attempt the impossible and guarantee failure. While Bowers gave many truthful and accurate statistical examples where high standards are critical, he ruined it when he implied that for us to not accept his position equated to accepting lower standards. He is wrong. I agree that excessive fear of failure prevents much good from happening. But, it is also motivation to succeed.
I think we need to set high, achievable standards commensurate with risk. My training background was in aviation. Our stated standard was in the 80 to 85 percentage area. Yet, our trainees (pilots) normally performed in the high 90s, many at the 100% level. Aviation is one of many human, high-risk endeavors labeled inherently dangerous. Fly safe and thank training.
For years the response to many statements (esp. by Brits) was “brilliant.” Another word where sarcasm works better than reality while good or excellent would suffice. But, when I answer a question and the response is “perfect,” I want to ask, “how so?”; or to simply say, “No. It is not perfect. It simply is.” And, thank you, but it’s also not brilliant.
I was on the phone with an otherwise charming and competent millennial when she asked for my address and phone number as part of a business transaction. After I told her my address, she responded with “perfect.” Her reaction to my phone number was again, “perfect.” If my address was One Penny Lane, Liverpool, it would be cool or, in a stretch, excellent. Yet, still not perfect. Same for a phone number of three sixes followed by the digits one through seven. Yet, the young lady declared my responses to every one of her questions perfect.
A friend asked if I was available to meetup next Thursday. When I responded “for lunch at noon” she could have said okay, or see you then, or great. But she said, “perfect.” I assume all times before noon would have been satisfactory and later would have been acceptable. But noon was fucking perfection without peer.
My friend, Jack, once described wine to me as drinkable. If you have ever tasted undrinkable wine, you know exactly what he meant. Jack served mighty fine wine — not perfect, but perfectly drinkable.
When people ask me about something and I answer with good, fine, or (god forbid) okay, it’s common for them to follow by asking me what was wrong or what I didn’t like. Perfect.
Look both ways crossing streets.
The perfectly trained UPS driver may not be having a perfect day.
Mind the gap lest you fall and ruin an otherwise perfect trip.
Note: FUBAR is an acronym for fucked up beyond all reason.