The Benefits of Imperfection

"If I waited for perfection... I would never write a word." — Margaret Atwood

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A wise colleague taught me many years ago that imperfection can play a strong role in business and in life. He was a new VP in a telco where I worked and I was helping him prepare some presentation slides that he would use as background in his introduction to the team. He wanted me just to take a look to see if there were any glaring errors. The goal of the presentation was simply to share his background, his style of leadership, as well as some priorities he was considering for the team.  The text on his draft slides was Courier font, no graphics ... and the presentation looked like it had been put together in an hour or so.

In fact, Robert let me know that he had been working on it, off and on, over a few days. He knew how important his first impression would be. When I asked if he wanted me to also add some graphics or photography, he explained, "No, I don't want it to look too perfect. I want there to be enough imperfection that people feel invited in to work with me and take a role in helping to improve what we will collaborate on. I want them to know I'm accessible."

The illusion of perfection can put up barriers. It can make preliminary data analysis seem final when presented in a slick infographic. It can send a message that help is not needed or welcomed. It can remove powerful evidence of human emotion, problem solving and creativity from our work. It can create hours of useless "busy work" as you refine the tiniest details of punctuation and vocabulary in a presentation.

Try leaving some imperfection in your work. Perhaps omit something and ask your audience to provide suggestions. Show some evidence of the messy process that lead to your beautiful current draft. Share hypotheses, formulas and/or research that you've left behind on that path to your current project. Each imperfection can be a tacit invitation for others to join you and support your work.