Perfection is the problem and the enemy of fine

by | 11/04/19

At a time when we are told many individuals suffer mental health problems, caused by poor body image or a perceived lack of success compared to their social media contemporaries, perhaps more should embrace the concept of, good enough will do.

It is an approach I have personally used throughout my life, since taking home a school report and having to explain to my parents why my teacher had written, and I quote; “David is too easily satisfied with his own low standards.”

I think I know the point they were trying to make. I always believe it was my teacher’s way of trying to make me do more and strive for better; perhaps mistakenly believing I had more to give, if only I would listen. And concentrate.

Given that some of my clients and hopefully prospective clients might read this personal aside, I don’t want any to mistake my belief that most of the time, satisfactory is probably the result we should be aiming for and not always perfection.

There appears to be a commonly held and often espoused opinion in the business world that only perfection will do, with satisfactory seen as an admittance of defeat.

It is disturbing to see all the extra money and time wasted on projects overrunning their deadlines, their scope and the budget, before they finally fail completely, with so many appearing to find this acceptable in the pursuit of perfection.  

Satisficing is the future

I recently found a term for my approach to life and business, which is gratifying because it means there are more people out there like me, who are eschewing the concept of perfection or nothing.

The term is ‘satisficing’ and it was first used in 1956 by American scientist and Noble-laureate Herbert Simon.

It is an approach to decision-making that aims for a satisfactory result, rather than the optimal solution. The idea is that instead of making a huge effort to try and attain the most ideal outcome for all stakeholders, satisficing focusses on delivering the effort required to reach an acceptable solution.

It is easy to see the attraction when you accept that aiming for the optimal solution may require needless expenditure of money, time, effort and resources.

At its most basic, you are trying to achieve the first resolution that meets the basic acceptable outcomes identified at the outset. Which is a long-winded way of saying, good enough will do. When the solution gives everyone what they want, it works and pursuing anything better is pointless.

Everything within reason

I know the argument exists though, that if we had accepted that horses were good enough for personal transport, then we may never have invented the car. But that is a too simplistic application of the theory of satisficing.

We all do it every day when we eat – Michelin-starred gourmet cuisine might be regarded as the optimal solution when hunger strikes, but a bacon sandwich will do the job well enough for most of us, when the mood and time is right.

And that is the key to satisficing; knowing when good enough will do and knowing when to stretch for a better solution.

There are times the immediacy of the message and the strength of the story is more important for the press releases we draft for our clients, than spending days trying to craft a prize-winning piece of prose.

I would never claim we are capable of drafting copy good enough to win prizes, but that is not what our clients expect nor need. They want a consistent message spread across the various communication channels we can exploit, whether it’s trade magazines, websites or social media.

And they want it delivered quickly, cost-effectively and regularly to build a greater awareness of their brands and the products or services they offer.

Reach higher and be disappointed

Constantly striving for perfection, for reaching too high and never achieving the desired outcome is soul-destroying. It takes a lot of confidence to accept a lower standard of performance and be happy with it; despite some views to the contrary, not everyone can be number one.

We know there are times to reach higher and seek interviews with editors, video testimonials with our clients’ clients, long thought leadership articles for influential media, but for the most part, satisficing is our approach and it fits the bill.

The ability to understand when satisfactory will do is what makes us who we are. It’s why we are called WorkPR and why, by a happy coincidence, pragmatic begins with the letters p and r.

This is not a question of ignoring innovation or creativity, which we have in abundance. This is accepting there are times the first acceptable solution is the best and the additional effort that could have been wasted, can be expended elsewhere to address other challenges more quickly.