Running A Business

Are You a Perfectionist or a “Lean-ist”?

Aug 28, 2012 • 3 min read
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      In a lot of the things I do, I like to be a perfectionist. However, this can make me unproductive sometimes. I can be such a perfectionist that I won’t even do something unless I know it can be done without error. If my friends want to hear me play a song on the piano, for example, I won’t do it until I know every note. Or, if I’m craving homemade fettuccine alfredo, I won’t cook it unless I have the best cream and straight-from-the-garden garlic.

      At other things I do, however, I can be just the opposite – completely careless.

      If I have too much on my mind, I won’t bother to shovel snow off my sidewalk until I slip and break my tailbone. Or, when I’m in a hurry, I won’t even think about washing the windshield of my car until the accumulated dust blinds me. Even then, I might wait a couple weeks.

      The Lean Methodology

      In business, unproductive perfectionism and chancy carelessness can be crippling. To combat this, I try to adopt the ideologies from Eric Ries’ book Lean Startup. Not only applicable to startups but to any size business, the lean methodology, in my mind, is about finding a happy medium between perfection and carelessness.

      One of the main points of the lean methodology is to “move through the ‘build-measure-learn’ feedback loop as quickly as possible” (Read more lean quotes). When it comes to building products, managing teams, or building a brand, this scienctific approach helps a company see direct results from minimum (but nevertheless effective) effort.

      Here’s an example of going “lean.” Say you launch a new website. Instead of spending tons of money and time for what you envision to be the “perfect website,” you can start with an minimum viable product (MVP), and measure your customer activity. Then, you can start asking questions:

      • How do my customers navigate the site?
      • Are they finding what they are looking for?
      • What is stopping them from engaging more fully with my brand?
      • What do you need to do to improve their experience?

      Improve it – then measure again.

      With all the time saved by not being perfect, you can discover the things that actually produce results.

      The 100% Perfectionist

      Now, let me make a U-turn in my argument. While the lean business model proves to be effective, it is not to say that there isn’t a little room for time-consuming perfection.


      Michelangelo was probably a perfectionist.

      I have a friend who is a 100% perfectionist. He is an amazing painter – a genius, in fact. He builds his own canvases and mixes his own paints from natural ingredients. When he doesn’t like the way the light reflects off of a particular mix of blue, he’ll make a new blue. Then, once he gets painting, he doesn’t stop until it’s done. In the end, his paintings stun audiences and sell for thousands. Were he to take the minimalist approach, the paintings would hardly be the same.

      If you aren’t careful, it’s easy to get hyped up about “agility,” the “MVP,” and the best-bang-for-your-buck projects. But never let this get in the way of your company’s main message and brand.

      While it may require patience, sometimes perfection is the only way to do something.

      Are you a perfectionist or a “lean-ist”? When, if at all, do rely on perfection? When does being perfect become unproductive?

      About the author
      Tyson Steele

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