Perfectionism: The Enemy of Action

30-January-2013
30-January-2013 16:27
in Practical Small Business Advice
by Colin Smith

Very early on in my career as an entrepreneur I came to realise something really important: The world does not reward perfectionists.  It rewards people that get thingsdone.  I have to admit that this is a subject with which I have struggled for years and still struggle with to this day.  I've always hated getting things wrong.  This served me well throughout school and ultimately led to my graduating top of my class with a first class honours degree from the University of Liverpool in Business Studies.  This same perfectionism guided me to a series of rapid promotions in my post-university corporate life.  My job as National Operations Manager within a large foodservice company was largely measuring and optimising key business processes and this idea of making as few mistakes as possible worked dovetailed nicely into my responsibilities.  I trained in lean six sigma techniques to try and help the company reach "zero defects" across it's key business processes and our work yielded a number of significant improvements and savings.  I was doing well in my career, making a good living and earning the respect of my peers.

I had always been attracted to the idea of starting my own business.  I had seen a number of people around me whilst growing up be very successful and seem very fulfilled doing exactly that and, having experienced corporate life, I resolved that I wouldn't spend my entire life "working for the man".  However, the same perfectionism that had served me so well in my education and career to that date became a huge obstacle to my following my dream of starting up on my own.  Fear of failure, the need for control, over preparation and paralysis by analysis ultimately prevented me from launching into action.  I spent all my time waiting for the optimal conditions rather than just jumping in and trusting in my ability to work everything out as I went.  Ultimately though, the cost of procrastination became larger than the potential cost of a mistaken decision and I left my corporate job to pursue my first business venture.  That was over eight years ago now and I have not looked back since, although not everything that I touched turned to gold in business.

One of the biggest challenges for me during that time has been to develop what has been called "the action habit".  That's not to say that I was lazy or did not achieve anything previously.  I had been successful both in education and my career previous to that point.  That success had been predicated, however, at least as much upon not making mistakes as it had on positive achievement.  As an entrepreneur, you cannot build a successful business simply by avoiding making mistakes.  They are built one positive action at a time and I had to develop some new habits and new beliefs to help me do this.  I'll share what some of those habits and beliefs are with you now so that you can perhaps benefit from years of trial and error in combating my perfectionist tendencies and developing "the action habit".

1. Follow Your Passion

If you are going to to develop the habit of taking action, you have to be motivated.  If you are doing something that you love everyday, then you are likely to take consistent, massive action.  Your energy and enthusiasm will be boundless.  It's really important to try to find ways of doing what you love, even if you have to start off small.  The truth is that following your passion will eventually lead to excellence rather than the false security provided by a stable pay check doing something you cannot abide.  

2. Great Ideas Are the Result of Action 

Most people believe that great ideas precede great action.  The reality is, in my experience, that the best ideas come after action has been taken.   Sometimes the challenges we grapple with in business seem so large and overwhelming, we have no idea even of where to begin.  My advice is just to start working anywhere and wait for the inspiration that will follow.  One of my favourite quotes is by a man named Frank Tibolt, who said "we should be taught not to wait for inspiration to start a thing.  Action always generates inspiration.  Inspiration seldom generates action".   Even when we don't feel like doing what we know we need to do, we ought to just do it.  The fastest wat of changing emotion is to get in motion.

3. The Habit of Action can be Learnt

The action habit can be learnt like any other habit however long we have spent doing the opposite. Start small and don't let self doubt and fear prevent you from pushing forward.  In my experience, action is the greatest antidote to fear and self doubt because it demystifies it.  More often than not, we find that we were simply afraid of not knowing every detail in advance.  Ultimately, I think it comes down to the question of whether or not you trust yourself to find the answers as you go along.  The truth is that you can always change course but changing course makes no sense if you haven't even set off yet yet for fear of getting lost.

4. Make A Public Commitment

This was a big one for me.  Sharing my intention to start a business with friends and family allowed me to get enough leverage upon myself to make a leap that I otherwise might not have made.  It also kept me accountable.  It is a well documented principle of human psychology that we will go to extraordinary lengths to be consistent with previous statements and actions.  Robert Cialdini's seminal book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion discusses at length our "near obsessive desire to be (and appear) consistent with what we have already done.  If you need to get leverage upon yourself to do something that you know that you want or need to do, making this desire public is a great way of making sure that you transfer these thoughts into action sooner rather than later.

You might find it odd that someone that spends alot of their time professionally writing business plans is advocating the importance of action in entrepreneurial success.  This goes to the heart of what is different about the continuous business planning paradigm.  We understand that a business plan is a living thing that will evolve over time.  There is no room for perfectionism in small business and we certainly do not advocate that approach to our clients.  To better understand how Continuous Business Planning can help your business overcome paralysis by analysis, contact us today.  

 

 

 

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