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Progress Trumps Perfection

In the late 17th century, Lord Chesterfield, an English writer and politician, wrote to his son, "Whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing well." Three hundred years later, we still heed this advice from the fourth Earl of Chesterfield. Yet doing it well doesn't mean doing it perfectly. The 21st century workplace requires more than doing something well.

More accurately, today's adage should be: "Whatever is worth doing, is worth doing." That's the secret people who are winning at working know. It's action, not inaction, practice not theory, and progress not perfection that builds success, achieves results, and actualizes dreams.

After hearing me speak at a professional conference, a young woman sought me out. She was struggling with this concept of progress over perfection and asked for advice. "How do you do it?" she asked. "How do you accept something as finished when you know it could be better?" She proceeded to tell me that she was managing a project that was over budget and nine months past the deadline. Her boss had made his displeasure clear. Yet, she struggled. "If only I had more time to do it right," she pined.

Here's the thing. There's a difference between doing your best under the circumstances, and trying to achieve perfection. As a person who, at times, has perfectionist leanings, I understand doing things well. I know there is always more you can do to make it better, grandeur, niftier; always more to add, augment, or debug; more ideas, more tweaking, more revisions to make it close to the illusionary perfect status. But, I've learned in twenty years in management, in order to survive and thrive, progress trumps perfection.

If a toddler didn't walk until she could walk perfectly; the musician didn't play until he was accepted by the Philharmonic; or the inventor didn't invent until she had a multi-million dollar product, we'd think it crazy. And it's no crazier for us. Whatever our work, we must move it forward to get results. Our work is a work in progress. And so are we.

People who are winning at working test and pilot and risk and even fail sometimes. They evolve a process, an idea, or a product bit by bit, laying elements to build a strong foundation. Perfect is not the goal. Results and progress are. As the saying goes, "Better is the enemy of done."

You see, sometimes the message is more important than the vehicle that delivers it; the idea more important than the packaging, the work-around more important than the ultimate fix to the problem. Sometimes it's not. But that's a judgment call.

So unlike many who spend their days trying to make something perfect, people who are winning at working spend their days making progress. Making progress, any progress, fuels their motivation, creativity, and energy. It builds their momentum. And it ignites their results. Want to be winning at working? Make progress.

(c) 2006 Nan S. Russell. All rights reserved.

About the Author: Sign up to receive Nan's complimentary biweekly eColumn at http://www.winningatworking.com. Nan Russell has spent over twenty years in management, most recently with QVC as a Vice President. She has held leadership positions in Human Resource Development, Communication, Marketing and line Management. Nan has a B.A. from Stanford and M.A. from the University of Michigan. Currently working on her new book, "Winning at Working: 10 Lessons Shared," Nan is a columnist, writer, and speaker. Visit http://www.nanrussell.com