Marketing Leaders: Why a Focus on Perfect is Holding Your Team Back

Row of three apples with one that is imperfect

It’s no secret that failure is the best teacher. Failure is also a harsh word. It’s a scary word to a lot of people – especially those of you who seek perfection.

If you’re one of those people, I hate to break it to you, but perfection is subjective. My advice is to stop wasting your time and ship the damn thing you’re working on.

That’s the message I try to communicate to my team. It’s better to get it out into the world and start getting real feedback so you can make it better than to toil around, hemming and hawing about a few commas and rewriting a sentence five times.

Ship it!

You have an idea? Get it out into the world. See what happens.

It’s Been Beaten Into Us

Being comfortable with shipping something imperfect is difficult. We’ve been brainwashed to seek the A+ and that nothing less is unacceptable.

Schools have ingrained this myth into us at a young age. It’s great for conformity, but a killer for creativity and creating something truly remarkable.

It keeps us boxed in, only willing to do what makes us comfortable. You know what that is? The same thing we’ve always been doing. Doing things the same way they’ve always been done.

Sound familiar? Ever start working at a new company and you find a process that seems wacky? When you ask, “why do you do it this way?,” you’re met with the answer, “because it’s how we’ve always done it.”

Frustrating isn’t it?

It’s because, at some point, someone gave them a “A+” and they wanted to hang on to that as long as possible.

Don’t Ship Shit

Now, I’m not a proponent of shipping shit. I’m not saying, rush through something and get it out, or cut corners, or don’t care about the quality of it.

I’m not saying that at all.

What I’m saying is, don’t get hung up on the little things. Don’t seek perfect- because everything can always be better.

Don’t Swing at the First Pitch

Your goal is to create something great – something your audience, clients, prospects- think is great. Not something you think is great.

Give what you’re working on some thought, create it up to a point of ‘good enough’ and ship it. Then, wait for the feedback to come in so you can tweak it and end up with something great.

That’s how great happens. To use a baseball metaphor, you rarely hit a home run off of the first pitch.

Be patient and the pitcher will drop a dime right over the plate, then knock the cover off of it.

Why am I saying all of this? I’m saying this to provide context that you’ll need to create an environment of shipping, creativity, and doing great work.

It’s important to understand why you need to get your work out into the world, even when it’s not “perfect” or even great.

It’s also important to understand that your team may be apprehensive and uncomfortable with this at first.

Afterall, they too have been brainwashed into seeking the A+.

Knowing this allows you to create a soft place for them to land. People learning new gymnastics techniques or people learning to walk a tightrope for the first time probably don’t do so without a big, squishy mat to catch them when they fall.

They know, that someone is going to have to fall -likely a lot – before they are able to become good or great at it.

How Do Can I Create a ‘Soft Landing’?

The first way, is to let your team know that it’s OK if something doesn’t work. Give them permission to try out new ideas, to test things. Let them know that they aren’t being graded or it won’t have an impact on their performance reviews.

Build processes for reviewing what happened and why something may not have worked. Loop peer reviews and coaching into this process.

Become a coach as a leader and encourage your team to do the same. But, understand what coaching really is and that there’s a big difference between coaching and telling someone how to do something.

If you’d like to learn more about this difference, I would recommend reading the best book that’s been written about the topic – *The Coaching Habit* by Michael Bungay Stanier.*

Have Their Backs

You also need to realize that this philosophy of failing is probably not something your company’s leadership tends to practice or be comfortable with either.

That’s why you, as a leader yourself, need to act as a buffer for your team. You have to provide air cover for them and defend what you’re doing, not defend what they’re doing.

Take responsibility and use your coaching skills upstream to help them realize the long-term benefits of your approach.

Keep them isolated from this noise, because that’s what it is – noise and a distraction. That’s also what good leaders do.

Experiment With Bad

This may seem strange, but I’m telling you, it works.

One way to stimulate creativity and to get your team comfortable with shipping things that aren’t perfect is to challenge them to try to create the worst version of what they’re trying to create.

This is actually liberating for them and it gets the creativity flowing. When I’ve done this exercise, I’ve found out that the idea I had of what would be bad actually turned out to be quite good once I got it out of my head and into the world.

Other times, it’s lead me to the edge of my creativity, opening up doors to ideas that would have been buried otherwise.

Give it a try. You might be surprised at what happens.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that great is the result of an iterative process – no matter what you’re doing. Great comes from trying things that might not work. It comes from shipping good, getting feedback, testing, tweaking, and making it great. Not great for you, great for your intended audience.

As a leader, create a “safe” environment to ship imperfect. To become comfortable with feedback. Create a team of coaches. Have your team’s back when upper management starts to get out of their comfort zone.

Most of all, provide a safe place for your team to land when they fall.

Otherwise, be OK with “it’s just the way we’ve always done it,” watching your competitors blow by you, and make plans to get your resume ready. You’ll need it.