I think plenty has been written about perfectionism in relationship to self and the corresponding pressure, stress, and self-judgement that can go with it.   I haven’t yet stumbled upon any articles on perfectionism in relationship to organizations, so this week’s blog topic isn’t well researched; it is just me “thinking out loud” about something I’ve noticed in countless conversations with colleagues over the years.  And that is a generalized sense that somehow the flawed organizations we work for should be perfect.  I myself have thought that way at times, but I’ve come to realize that expecting perfection is a trap, a major pitfall to reality-based positive action and change.

Perfectionism can begin with very positive intent.  Take the idealist who has a powerful vision and wants wholesale change on the scale of organizational revolution.   I have felt that way at different points in my career.  Imagine if our organization was ____________.   A powerful vision is important to have.  Where do we want to go?  Yet, when the vision becomes an expectation (or a sense of entitlement) of a future perfect state, it can actually inhibit setting achievable goals and taking action, for the perfection seems so distant from reality, so out of reach.  And we end up waiting and waiting.  I have seen this in myself and others many times; grand intentions that get stalled out.

I’ve also noticed that perfectionism can breed a sort of negativity in the workplace where we denigrate where we are today when compared to what could be.   The idealist can, when the desired change doesn’t magically occur overnight, quickly become the critic and the energy-drainer.  Visions of perfection can easily lead to a hyper-critical view of reality where the sky is falling, everything is broken, and there is no clarity of vision that can see what is actually working well that could be leveraged for further positive change.  This is when the perfect becomes the enemy of the good (Voltaire).

Lately, when I find myself wishing for a perfect organization (or job or life) and daydreaming about what one would look like, I am challenging myself to ask:

What is right in front of me that I can work to improve?

How can my positive vision connect to the reality of what is today, including appreciating what is good?

How will I take a first positive step towards change?

Notice I am “challenging” myself to this.  I am not there yet.  I still fall into the perfection trap, but I know I don’t have to stay there.