It’s Better to Make Mistakes Than To Be a Perfectionist

Many people waste their lives trying to avoid making mistakes but cripple their careers since perfection is not attainable. They ultimately make fewer mistakes but accomplish less because they waste so much time trying to make things perfect. Time is money in business. Doing a good job today is more profitable than doing a great job tomorrow.

Rock star Jon Bon Jovi’s career might have ended before it started had he not understood this principle. He was only 21 when he won a contest with a radio station to record his first song in 1983. He quickly formed a band and released a debut album that went gold the following year. Suddenly they were opening a concert for ZZ Top at Madison Square Garden. They rushed to record a second album and strike while the iron was hot. It was released in 1985 to poor reviews. Jon was unhappy with the album and wanted to do better, but the timing was critical. The band moved past this bump in the road and released a better written and produced the third album in 1986. Jon still was not happy with the album because he did not think one particular song was good enough to be included. Fortunately for him, he listened to the people who knew the business side of music. That song was “You Give Love a Bad Name”. It became one of the band’s most well-known singles and helped send the album straight to number one. This launched them into superstardom and they went on to sell more than 100 million albums. Had they waited until the second album was perfect, they might have lost the support of their record label before they got to the third.

This is what happened to rock legend Tom Scholz, often referred to as the smartest man in the history of rock and roll. He holds a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from MIT and is listed as an inventor on 34 U.S. patents. The 1976 debut album by his band, Boston, sold over 16 million copies and remains the biggest selling debut album in history. It is also considered one of the best-produced albums in rock history. Scholz played every instrument on every song and produced the album himself. He is brilliant and talented. He is also a consummate perfectionist who took eight years to finish the third album. CBS/Epic Records got tired of waiting for it, sued him for breach of contract, and dropped Boston from their label.

It is okay to have high standards as long as they are realistic. It is not okay to procrastinate until everything is exactly the way you want it to be. Your employer does not have time to wait around until you get things perfect even if you are a genius inventor or legendary rock star. Deadlines must be kept and payroll must be met. An electrical engineer who attended my management seminar in Orlando once told me that he has to constantly remind the engineers he supervises that sometimes 90 percent is good enough.  Highly valued employees do not necessarily make fewer mistakes than run-of-the-mill employees. In fact, they often make more mistakes because the number of mistakes increases as productivity increases. They just know the right way to do it.

Making mistakes is okay as long as:

  1. They are reasonable mistakes to make.
  2. You catch your own mistakes.
  3. You correct your own mistakes.
  4. You accept responsibility.
  5. You do not blame others.
  6. You do not make excuses.
  7. You do not hide your mistakes from your boss.
  8. You learn from your mistakes.
  9. You do not repeat the same mistakes.
  10. You apologize when it is appropriate.

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