Perfection Versus Progression

Introduction

This post is for you if you are  at a crossroad of making a decision and you feel afraid of taking that step forward.

When you make your way from Point A to Point B, how much care do you give to the details of every path you make? Let’s say you’re walking –  do you calculate the trajectory of every step you make? If you’re driving a car, how important is it for you to know how much pressure and traction the tyres grip on the road? If you’re taking a flight from a country to another, how do you ensure the pilot is skilled and the aeroplane is serviced properly?

What I am saying is: there are always risks. Progress can alway be made in spite of imperfections.

Analogy of Walking

Nonetheless, in terms of decision-making, what we focus on is important. I may be oversimplifying things, but the following analogy will do. When I walk from Point A to Point B, my eyes need only to focus on my destination. Sometimes, along the way, my path may deviate slightly, but if I may project the shortest possible known route, I simply walk towards my desired end point. The path might not turn out to be as flat or straight. Along the way, I may be interupted by distractions and important encounters, but I may still move towards the goal. I just have to keep walking. Do I need to put so much care into every step I make, even to the detail of how I land my foot? Is it necessary? As far as I am concerned, and as you probably are as well, I instinctively assume I can walk and walk.


Extremity of “Cannot Fail”

An overemphasis for perfection may inhibit progress.

Perfection Promotes Procrastination

“I want to suceed at something. I cannot fail. I dare not fail. Okay, I shall not even try, so I won’t ever fail.”

Don’t try —> Won’t fail

If I had strived for perfection, many of the progress in my life would not happen. (This post is an example. I thought about writing this post,  but I never got around to write it until this week.)

Those who wait for perfection are likely to experience non-progress. Procrastination is an act, and it can serve for or against you. If the fear of failure (imperfection) paralyzes your progress, that would be a problem. But if it slows your progress, that is okay… right?

Fear of Failure

Fear of failure is not necessarily a bad thing.

Certain items have little to no tolerance to imperfection, understandably. In rocket science, if NASA is sending astronauts into the space, they better make their calculations down to as little imperfection as possible. The pilot who flies the aeroplane full of passengers better know ALL of the controls in his panels. Lives are at stake. If an organization has engaged a lawyer and a legal document is being crafted for contract purposes, they better make sure the details are scrutinized to the minute details to avoid legal impingement. You have a surgical decision to make. Take your time, as much as you can. These kind of situations ought to be approached at a slower pace. Yes, please sort out the details. I am not undermining the importance of upholding excellence.

However, not everything deserves such  an extensive thought-process. Certains decisions simply take too long and cost too much. Often than not, regrets occur from inaction than action towards a well-intended goal. Heuristics would help in aiding a quicker decision-making process, but that would be a topic for another time.

“I want to suceed at something. I cannot fail. Okay, I failed. I shall give up.”

Generally-speaking, today’s education culture seems to incline towards the “factory production” from the industrial age societal mechanism, i.e. labor-intensive requirements to advance a third-world nation to a first-world nation’s living standard. For example, pupils are made to take a year-end high-stake Math examination – of which, marks are deducted from “perfection”. Guess what happened to most of the people who graduated from school? They stopped learning what they were learning in schools. And many of those who failed the subjects hardly attempted at the subjects again. Why? Could it be they are avoiding the pain of failing again?

Not everything is avoidable. The only way to avoid failure is never to attempt to succeed.

Inevitable/Unpredictable Interruptions and Disruptions

“Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.”

Murphy’s Law

Sometimes, changes come to you. Sometimes the battles pick you.

Analogy of Covid-19

Consider how many of the so-called plans are often disrupted. In early 2020, Covid-19 virus spread wide enough to force many nations to rethink their way of lifestyle. Consider the sudden drastic change to have to work from home (WFH) and the closure of schools to transit to Home-based Learning (HBL). Parents and children are affected. The various systems were not perfected, but the situation did quicken the progress of many systems. The adaptation of online-conferencing, remote-working and non-contact payment system suddenly increased in priority. Online purchases suddenly experienced surge in adoption rate. Consumer behaviors were pushed to evolve faster than ever.

Analogy of Inflation

Consider inflation. Whether you like it or not, as long as inflation occurs, every cent you save in your bank account will diminish in value, with compounding effect. That’s a battle brought to regular folks like you and me, as long as we live in tyhe current financial system. We didn’t pick this negative progression, but it picked us.

Who would have thought? Oh the unknowns. The uncertainties. There are simply things one cannot foresee. Inasmuch as one may prepare and preempt, there are human limits to what may be.

Whether Murphy’s Law holds true to any extent, I believe people, in general, want to avoid the sense of punishment. Regardless, for progress to happen, it seems failures and setbacks are unavoidable. That brings my musing to the other end of the spectrum…


Extremity of “Must Fail”

I have heard of the sayings

“Fail many; fail fast; grow stronger.”

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and

“What does not kill you makes you stronger.”

Friedrich Nietzsche, German philosopher

Really? What is the context involved? Obviously, it is stupid to dive headlong into the unknown without assessing the risks and rewards. There must be a reason for one to even consider taking on a risk in the hope of progressing something. It can be regarding a relationship… a potential life partner, a career move, an investment decision, etc.

Does one, then, chase after failures? When is a good time to fail? When to give up? When not to give up? This brings my musing to the next thought…


Balancing Between Extremities

Analogy of See-saw

Again, at the cost of oversimplifiying the idea, the following analogy may communicate my message. Consider having two persons sitting on two ends of a see-saw. To balance the see-saw, ever-changing factors involving the weight of the two person, how far each of them sit from the fulcrum, and the length and width of the board holding them, etc, all matter. Finding a balance between the alluded extremities of “Cannot Fail” and “Must Fail” may not be a matter of finding the center. The balance may not be pivoting at the center of the See-Saw board.

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Analogy of Innovation

Consider how the progress of innovation happen…

Innovation and progress sound like they go hand-in-hand, don’t they? Indeed, in the business world and scientific research-and-development world, innovation are also often asscoiated with upscale failures and imperfections. Think Thomas Edison who brought forward the adption of electricity. Think Steve Jobs who introduced the first iPhone. In fact, iPhone would not have existed if not for the failures of its many predecessors. Think Internet. Think Jeff Bezos and Amazon. Think Jack Ma and Alibaba. Think Colonel Sanders and KFC. Many of these ideas and solutions would not have been, had they not started from imperfect beginnings. I am a proponent that knowing what do not work contributes to the value of what does work.

“I don’t have to wait until I am perfect to progress.”

Ask Better Questions

What is your “why”? 

“I want to suceed at something. I failed. Why?”

“Is it better to give up or try again later? What can I do differently to reach the same goal? What must/can change?”

Perhaps it is not about stating “I cannot fail” or “I must fail”. Perhaps it is about asking better questions. Perhaps in the pursuit of your goals, better questions might involve:

“What can I afford to fail/lose?”

“What can I not afford to fail/lose?”

“How can I maximize my return and minimize my risks?”

“What is the worst that can happen if I fail?”

“So what if my progress is hindered by imperfections?”

“So what?”

Sometimes, you go to the changes. Sometimes, you pick the battles. You can.

If the quality of your upsides supercedes your downsides when you take up the risk of progress, what are you waiting for? Unless your downsides supercedes your upsides, what is stopping you from taking the leap of faith?

Waiting for perfection before progress is foolish.

Instead, progress towards perfection. Yes, minimize the imperfections and maxmize the progress positively.

失败乃成功之母。

Failure is the mother of success.

Chinese Proverb

Dare to fail. Take calculated risks. Failures are excellent learning platforms. They can be your upward stumbling. If you learn from your mistakes and failures, then progress is made regardless of perfections or imperfections. If you learn to be flexible and develop your adaptibility for different situations… if you can manage your emotions to your advantage, then you are positioned for positive progressions.

In fact, creative solutions often stem from necessities. These necessities are often imperfect situations. A problem calls for a solution. The problem itself is an imperfection. An imperfection calls for a progression. A problem opens up opportunities of progression.

Identifying and assignining the level of precision to advance a progress is a skill one ought to hone and refine throughout his life.

Conclusion

Both perfection and progression are important. Apparently, I assume that we want both, if possible. However, they are not as straightforward. The means and the ends are not as easy as it sounds. Sometimes, it is about making do with what you have.

Back to the analogy at the beginning of this article. When I walk, there is a certan level of assumption I make. Part of it is that I can walk. Now, how I travel from Point A to Point B may vary with many factors. But I must move. I must walk. The path may not be perfect, but I can still walk. I may not walk perfectly, but I can still walk. As long as I walk, I know I will reach my destination.

Only He who is perfect can make what is perfect. He who is perfect can even make a good progress (outcome) out of what is imperfect. If you will, trust in the One who is perfect with everything imperfect in your hands. That’s faith. Now move.


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