Why perfectionism is an entrepreneur’s worst enemy

In the world of business, perfection will more likely inhibit your chances of success, than take you there.

Young black entrepreneur working on laptop.
By Ryan Robinson

Striving for perfection can afford you a lot of great perks. It can lead to immense financial rewards, career achievement, and so much more. However, placing that much pressure on yourself can also expose you to a lot of perils, that more often than not, lead to an eventual crash. 

Psychologists consider perfectionism a disorder, while prominent business thinkers strongly discourage entrepreneurs from even trying to be perfect. Why? Let’s take Steve Jobs as a case in point. 

Because Jobs rigorously pursued perfection, he implemented policies and made decisions that adhere to impossibly high standards, especially for others to be measured against. For instance, he required teams during Apple’s early years to seek his approval on every single detail of Macintosh computers, which unnecessarily prolonged development time. He did not hesitate to fire talented employees for ignoring his design aesthetics. He dumped nearly-completed projects that failed to meet his standards of elegance. 

While Jobs’ drive towards perfection helped create some of the world’s most beautiful and intuitive products, it also caused significant friction with the people he worked with. He was ousted from Apple in 1985. He came back in 1997 aiming to bring the company back to profitability by summarily terminating a number of projects, which of course terrorized just about everyone in the company. 

Only once he managed to rein in his acute perfectionism, was he able to transform Apple into one of the world’s most valuable brands. Yet even with a tale as illuminating as this one, people still misguidedly value perfectionism. In the United States, our culture is driven by perfectionist undertones. Many parents demand it from their kids, while stiff-necked managers continue to drive away employees with unreasonable performance standards. 

You don’t need to accept mediocrity, but excellence does not require perfection. In the world of business, perfection will more likely inhibit your chances of success, than take you there. So, if you continue down the often destructive path to perfectionism, expect to deal with these massive issues throughout your life. 

Your expectations will be unrealistic and nearly impossible to meet: One documented case of perfectionism is that of Jared Kant who, as a kid at school, was compelled to always erase a whole sentence if there’s a mistake in one word. Jared often went to great lengths (erasing entire essays and tests) just to get rid of even the slightest mistake. Similarly, if you insist on striving to create a product that’s utterly perfect, then you’ll be saddled with a litany of demanding features that your team will need to develop. The concept of a minimum viable product (MVP) won’t even appeal to your demanding sensibilities.   

You’ll be exposed to excessive levels of stress: Because your benchmarks for success are unreasonably high, life basically becomes a ground fight between you and the stress you’re placing yourself under. You’ll be exerting so much effort at perfecting even the non-essentials, that finding opportunities to relax and get refreshed becomes non-existent. There’s no doubt about it, you’ll eventually burn out and the lows will be much lower. 

Your creativity will run dry: High performance requires a lot of work. Perfection takes much more. If delivering high-quality results in your business already takes a considerable toll on your creative energy, then a dogged quest for perfection can only bleed you dry. 

You risk damaging your health: In some cases, perfectionism is recognized to be a psychological issue. But, it’s often forgotten how much it can also endanger your physical well-being. Just imagine what hours of lost sleep and missed meals can do to your body over time. You’ll certainly see the potential physical damage perfectionism can inflict upon your health. 

You’ll waste precious time and opportunities:  This is a major reason experts dissuade entrepreneurs from ever becoming perfectionists. You’ll never get things done on time. You’ll spend too much time planning and perfecting a product or feature, before launching it. Always launch even before you feel ready because that’s the only way you can gather valuable feedback that will help you improve your product. Otherwise, you’ll be less productive in trying to make everything absolutely perfect. 

You’ll be crushed when you fail: Because perfectionists set extremely high standards for themselves, the risk of massive failures is equally as high. Pamela Sue Edwards was a talented cellist and a champion distance runner. She was co-valedictorian in high school and graduated magna cum laude in college. Sadly, at the age of 24, this gifted young lady ended up taking her own life because of all the pressure she felt to continue achieving more and more. 

You won’t be open to compromise: Flexibility is an extremely rare trait among headstrong and idealistic perfectionists. But among entrepreneurs, being flexible is critical for success. Top entrepreneurs quickly adapt to changing business realities, making them better innovators and creative thinkers than most perfectionists. 

You’ll be more risk-averse:  Some psychologists consider perfectionism as a phobia: the fear of failure or making mistakes. If the thought of failure prevents you from taking the next step, then you won’t really get things done. In contrast, successful entrepreneurs thrive by learning from their mistakes and pushing forward. And nearly all of them encountered major failures along the way. 

You’ll be seen as a monster by your peers and employees: People who know Steve Jobs are aware of the terror his perfectionism created for the people he worked with for many years. While being a monster might not be on your personal development agenda, unbridled perfectionism can turn you into one without even realizing it. There’s a real tendency to hold people against the very same demanding standards you set for yourself. In many cases, it’s just a recipe for disappointment for all parties involved.   

You won’t find true happiness: While everyone wants a perfect life, a perfect spouse, or the perfect business, nothing of the sort has ever existed. It’s merely your warped perception of how others live, that causes people to want to emulate the lives of others. Rather, well-balanced people tend to experience the most happiness throughout their lives. Not so for perfectionists, according to research professor Brene Brown. She concludes: if you want to be happy, stop trying to be perfect. 

In the fast-paced world of business, it’s better to aim for excellence, than take the long shot to perfection. While it’s possible you’ll consistently benefit from striving to be perfect, the exceptions to the rule are few and far between. That’s why they’re called exceptions. Spending too much time perfecting a feature simply has no place in this era of agile business and smart product iterations. 

Read the full story here.

About the Author

Ryan Robinson is a blogger, podcaster and marketing consultant.

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