The pursuit of perfection: can good enough ever be good enough in comms?

By James Morton, communications consultant, Alive with Ideas

Last year, New Scientist ran a front-page feature, entitled The Perfection Trap.

It brought to light the “hidden epidemic” of sky-high expectations and impossible demands we are placing on ourselves and others. Their study showed perfectionism has increased significantly in the last 30 years, fuelled particularly by millennials ‘living their best life’ and craving the ideal body, career or social circle.  Nowhere is the quest for faultlessness more acutely apparent than in the comms world.

Almost without exception, comms professionals are slaves to perfecting their output – whether that’s words, pictures, video, design or websites. Rarely is good enough considered good enough. A misplaced comma, broken link or minutely out-of-sync voiceover can be enough to cause sleepless nights.  Unsurprisingly, all this is not doing us much good. We are plotting a destructive course on a mission impossible that threatens to cave in our mental health.

Last year’s Opening the Conversation report by the PRCA found nearly nine out of 10 comms professionals had struggled with mental wellbeing in the last year. So pretty much all of us. The CIPR’s State of the Profession report showed that unrealistic expectations from colleagues and clients were one of the leading factors in causing stress at work.

So, can we fight this irresistible urge to drive ourselves – and others – to distraction over seemingly small things? Here’s three mantras to try and ease the pursuit of perfection.

Accept where you are and what you’ve got – the book, The Chimp Paradox, explains that a classic way in which perfectionists torture themselves is by starting from where they want to be and with what they want to have. In other words, our desire to be the best means we don’t accept our current circumstances or level of resources and so are doomed to fighting a constant losing battle. Living more in the pragmatic present, and not an unobtainable utopia, is a good start for breaking free from the perfection trap.

Momentum can be more important than perfection – here at Alive, we refreshed our website last year. It was a long time in development, and we went back and forth, tweaking and editing, trying to get the perfect product. It reached a point, though, where getting it live was more important than it being perfect. And the feedback and conversations it has created has completely justified this. Does everyone want to talk to us and ask us about wrestlers? Yes. Does anyone ask about the double-space on our Contact Us page? No. Getting stuff out there and building momentum and visibility is so vital in comms. Those paralysed by perfectionism are going to get left on the blocks.

There is always a next time – one of the more painful comms conflicts we face is that our output is often so high, yet so our standards. By any sane logic, these two factors are incompatible – quantity over quality rarely produces award-winning results. But what such rapid turnover also means is that the opportunity to right a wrong or improve next time is never far away. In the absurdly accelerated world of social media, this can even be within seconds. Sure, the impact of a misplaced word or meaning can have far-reaching impact, but, on the whole, each bit of our output simply provides an opportunity for learning and improving next time around.

So, is this concept of ‘settling’ for anything less than perfection leaving you feeling uncomfortable?

Can good enough ever be good enough?

Given the disturbing mental health trend in comms, we need to start by giving each other a break.

None of us are perfect, so, really should we expect everyone else to be?

We’d love to hear your thoughts or experiences on this topic. Tweet us at @alivewithideas.

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Photo by Jonathan Hoxmark on Unsplash


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