“Perfection is the enemy of progress”
I heard a business leader quote this recently on radio and it struck a chord with me. It’s a variation on Voltaire’s ‘perfect is the enemy of good’.
It appealed to me because I’m not a perfectionist. I often illustrate this with my approach to furniture-making. I’ve only ever made furniture (mainly beds) that’s functional – it works and doesn’t look too bad, but it could never be described as craft work or win prizes.
Which is why my new passion for making furniture from old wooden pallets – for sale through The Repair Shed at very reasonable prices – suits me so well. Pallet furniture is all about function over form but it’s also about every item being unique with the nail holes and uneven surfaces all part of the ‘rustic charm’ as well as being environmental (do you see how I’m working up my sales pitch?)
I suppose perfection relates to competitiveness – internalising the urge to improve and achieve the best we can and this becomes most obvious in sport. My school sports endeavour was as a goalkeeper of an unsuccessful football team. I was delighted – it meant I had lots to do while the opposing goalkeeper got bored and, in winter, frozen. I loved the game – played four times a week – but it wasn’t about winning.
I think I get my (lack of) competitive spirit from my dad whose sporting ambition at school was to avoid coming last in any race he ran. He often told me “I was once trying so hard not to come last that I accidently came third and had to run in another heat – very annoying”.
Well I didn’t think I was competitive until I took up parkrunning around 18 month ago. parkruns (the lower case ‘p’ is intentional) can be found all over the country – I’ve done them near Cambridge, York, St Albans and Norwich and each one has been brilliant; so friendly and a ‘good thing’ for lots of reasons (find yours at www.parkrun.org.uk – there are nearly 300 across the UK every Saturday at 9am)
Although a parkrun is a run not a race, it’s timed; once you have your barcode you can get your time for each 5K run and compare your times with the other runners and your other runs. I was getting a real buzz from getting personal bests and eagerly awaiting the online results around 5pm almost as much as the football results. But gradually my enthusiasm waned – I was enjoying volunteering as a marshal as much as running.
Then I read a book – Running Free: A runner’s journey back to nature. Author Richard Askwith is a keen runner but, for him, running is not about pounding the pavements or a treadmill in the gym (he’s lucky enough to have rural runs from his backdoor…) Nor is it about spending money on fancy equipment (apart from footwear) or even recording your times.
It’s a beautifully written book and it got me thinking about why I was getting less pleasure from park runs. My wife (who starts her holidays by abandoning her watch) suggested a possible reason – that, consciously or otherwise, I was pressuring myself into going for a new ‘personal best’ each time.
She could be right – I’m going to try parkrunning without a watch and see what happens each Saturday at 5pm – will I be tempted to check the parkrun website?
For runners: to order ‘Running Free’ online (and support your local bookshop) click here
For entrepreneurs: For a nice little read on the theme of ‘perfection and progress’ click here