Pursuit of Perfect


« Pursuit of Perfect » by Tal Ben-Shahar, the famous professor of the even more famous Harvard university that taught the largest course at Harvard on « Positive Psychology » and the third largest on « The Psychology of Leadership »—with a total of over 1,400 students. In this book Ben-Shahar explains how perfectionsim might prevent you to be happy in your work as well as private life and how sliding from perfectionism to optimalism might bring you happiness and success.

Happiness at work, a path to success

In an AOL jobs article, Alexander Kjerulf propose 5 easy tips to make your work life happier. He reminds us that happiness at work is important for employees as it is most likely the activity to which we give the more time per week, because it is also good for our health (A Gallup’s report clearly indicates the possible huge financial benefits of having happier employees as they will be less sick and less prone to switch employers) and also because it will lead to success.

This last point is also supported by a 2005 scientific article of Lyubomirsky & King, « The Benefits of Frequent Positive Affect: Does Happiness Lead to Success? » in which the autors suggested that evidences indicates that it is happiness that creates conditions to success and not only the successes that makes people happy (although their is also a positive spiral effect here).
Many successful leaders (Jobs, Branson, Hsieh,…) have often repeat that they never worked as they always did what is a passion to them. They were not looking for success at first but more to make what was making sense to them. At the same time, such mindset creates better condition for success as you will likely not be devastated by your failures to the same extent as your goal is not to reach a result but more to do what you like. It is the same difference like between the optimalist and the perfectionnist (if I refer to Tal Ben- Shahar definition in his book « Pursuit of Perfect« ), you will enjoy the path to success instead of waiting the success to be enjoyed.

The right to be wrong

A large number of companies have a culture of perfection or, at least, « right from the start »  in their values. As a consequences, failing is not welcome. Who like to fail? Nobody!

Even if you don’t like it, failure occurs. And the worse thing about failure is to fail to learn from it and to repeat our failures. Unfortunately, with a « right from the start » culture, employee tend to be scared to fail and try to hide, as much as possible their failure. If there is no failure, there is no lesson to learn from it or not the right one if the truth about the root cause is kept secret. Moreover, such culture prevent creativity to occur in our offices. To do it right we do it like the others, we follow the normal path, the one without risk. Nowadays, can companies afford to be on the same path as their competitors? Don’t we need fresh ideas, innovation, improvements? But if your employees are scared of proposing a (maybe) good and innovating idea, how will you achieve innovation? If you cannot fail, how will you succeed?

Another consequence is the tendency to postpone decisions. In order to minimize risks, managers tends sometimes to postpone decisions or to transfer the risk, meaning the decision process, to the upper management. What is worse? Taking a maybe wrong decision or not deciding? Going forward or staying still? No decsision is a bad decision (100% chances). Deciding is likely less risky but fear of being wrong (or not being right) slow down the process or burden upper management with additional (sometimes minor) decisions to take.

Experience shows that accepting failure will likely increase the number of failures during the first year. Not because people will do more but rather because they will report more failures. With time, failures will diminish as people will learn and creativity and success will rise.

Are you ready to take the risk to allow people to be wrong?