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Perfectionism – a double-edged sword
Entrepreneurship / 10 November 2022
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Kai Golan Hashiloni is an analyst at FS Entrepreneurship Centre. His responsibility includes assisting startups at their early stages in defining themselves and growing. He is studying for a master’s degree in Computer Science at Reichman University, Israel and is currently participating in an exchange programme at TU Darmstadt. Kai previously studied Entrepreneurship with Computer Science for his bachelor's degree and had his own startup – a dating app to meet partners through mutual friends.

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“Am I a perfectionist?  Nah, I only focus on what really matters. Oh, no! there are two spaces after the question mark! And the ‘t’ after the exclamation mark is not capitalised!!!”  

Entrepreneurs deal with a never-ending, multidimensional tradeoff between quality and speed. If they are not extraordinary and delivering unique value, they lose customers to a competitor. On the other hand, they must act fast in order to outpace and overcome their competitors. Their time is limited — they must come up with results good enough for the next fundraising round or a scalable and profitable business before they run out of cash. 

This dilemma is highly correlated with the perfectionism of the entrepreneurial team and its management. It comes into play in the daily routines of individuals, which, when accumulated, impact the performance of the company and the mood in it. It is thus crucial to understand perfectionism and its benefits and disadvantages to be able to form an appropriate culture.  

The most valuable thing you can make is a mistake. You can’t learn anything from being perfect.” (Adam Osborne) 

Perfectionism can be viewed as a characteristic, an ability, a curse, etc. I personally like to treat it as a tool. As such, before usage, one should read its manual, watch some tutorials or go head-on and gain experience by trial and error! In this post, we will dive into this fascinating phenomenon to better understand its: (1) strengths and how we can utilise them; (2) downsides and their impact. And yes, there are some drawbacks to being a perfectionist; I don’t call it a double-edged sword for nothing!  

Healthy perfectionism 

As I mentioned, this term is not necessarily bad, and an entrepreneur can highly benefit from having such a spirit in their team. When applied at the right times and quantities, it can enhance processes and products quality. 

  1. High standards – setting high expectations and standards helps the team to have a clear goal in mind. It allows the members to focus primarily on getting there and may also push them to reach results they wouldn’t have aimed for before or even believed they could achieve.
  2. Learn from failure – every failure (well, also every success) is an opportunity to gain more knowledge and experience. Mastering tasks or processes by constantly fine-tuning through iterative learning is an art. It can remarkably improve performance and efficiency but requires a sharp eye!
  3. Driven by positive outcomes – achievements are the fuel. They are the focus and are leveraged to provide great boosts to the team. They also supply essential insights about what works and what shall be preserved. 

Unhealthy perfectionism 

However, when it becomes excessive and exaggerated, it can hinder processes and harm relations within the team. It may be rather hard to detect and identify when this is the root of a problem, and it’s not easy to migrate. 

  1. Unrealistic standards – when nothing is enough, no matter what, employees might ask themselves: “why should we bother at all?”. This one kills creativity, motivation and commitment.
  2. Fear of failure – a failure can be (wrongly) perceived as a disaster and unpleasant event, which should be avoided at all costs. With this approach, risks will not be taken, and the team will not innovate. As a result, the company won’t learn anything new and won’t realise potentially great opportunities.
  3. Driven by negative outcomes – the fuel here is not accomplishments but the things that went wrong. Excessively investigating how we could act differently to the point where it becomes the goal instead of a tool. This over-emphasising of negative results inevitably spotlights those who are responsible, and the blaming fingers will shortly be drawn. 

The direction dimension 

Another important aspect of this subject is whom it is directed at. A person might try to reach their own 110% in tasks, which I call self-perfectionism. It usually primarily affects specific people and their relationships with themselves. Alternatively, in co-perfectionism, someone applies their agenda to colleagues and subordinates. This can have a much more profound impact on the whole team. 

Maybe you have felt lately that your sharp eye has dramatically improved something. Maybe you have felt that you were a bit too rigorous and wasted time and energy. Overall, there’s no winning recipe here, and no one can teach you how you should behave regarding this matter; it’s all about awareness and balancing.  

I hope you find this article useful and that it will improve your working methods. Feel free to reach out for any comment, query or just to chat! 

Visit the Entrepreneurship Centre to find out more.

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