Perfectionists often believe that if they spend more time on something, they can make it perfect. In reality, however, perfection does not exist. And in the business world as well as the world at large, there are generally deadlines that just have to be met, whether or not a project has reached a state of near perfection.
As a result, managers can often seen perfectionism as more of a hindrance to personal effectiveness than a help. Amy Gallo asserts that “true perfectionism is a flaw more than an asset.” She suggests that managers better manage perfectionism by assigning perfectionists to appropriate projects and then helping perfectionists to become more self-aware and better prioritize the time they spend on their projects.
“Even in the right position, perfectionists can cause trouble — slowing progress or demoralizing colleagues. You have to help your direct reports recognize when their exacting standards result in negative outcomes,” says Gallo.
Gallo suggests that as a result of the sometimes critical nature of perfectionists, they often make poor managers, and they often work best on projects that involve small scope but great detail.
However, perfectionism is not always a hindrance to great success. Take Steve Jobs, for instance. According to a recent article in the New Yorker, “As seemingly everyone on the planet knows, Steve Jobs’s defining quality was perfectionism. The development of the Macintosh, for instance, took more than three years, because of Jobs’s obsession with detail.” The article details specific ways in which Job’s perfectionism and micromanaging his product helped to increase his personal effectiveness in order to power his career and his company.
For example: “This perfectionism obviously had a lot to do with Apple’s success. It explains why Apple products have typically had a feeling of integrity, in the original sense of the word; they feel whole, rather than simply like collections of parts.”
In the beginning, Steve Jobs created Apple as a very closed operating system, of which he controlled every detail. He even worried about how many screws held the case onto the computer. Over time, though, he became less concerned over proprietary software and accessories and opened his system to more outside influence through platforms such as the iPod and iPhone, which could be more widely used by even non-Apple users.
In giving up a little of his original control over his creations, Jobs actually found a lot more power and popularity for his products. So in the end, if one can properly manage perfectionism, we see that perfectionism does not have to hinder personal effectiveness.