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  • Writer's pictureJake Breeden

The Excellence Trap

This is a summary of an excerpt of Jake's book that originally appeared in Strategy+Business.

While striving to do our best is generally a good thing, an obsession with perfection can backfire, creating a tense work environment and stifling innovation. Think of the high-achiever with a relentless drive for excellence, whose high standards create a chilling effect. The relentless pursuit of perfection can backfire, fostering a tense environment where mistakes are feared and creativity stifled.

A maniacal focus on perfection can be a problem because:

  • It creates a tense work environment: When every detail is scrutinized and mistakes are seen as failures, it creates a breeding ground for anxiety and low morale. This not only impacts happiness, but also reduces collaboration and innovation.

  • It stifles creativity: Demanding perfection in every idea or draft slams the brakes on creativity. New ideas are shut down before they even have a chance to blossom, hindering innovation and progress.

  • It drains your energy: Leaders who demand excellence in everything, even the small stuff, end up draining their own energy reserves. This leaves them with less capacity for tasks that truly matter.

  • It hinders prioritization: Not everything deserves the same level of attention. Excellence-obsessed leaders often fail to prioritize tasks effectively, neglecting crucial activities while wasting time on minutiae.

So, what's the alternative? Instead of striving for constant perfection, let's embrace a more nuanced approach:

  • Embrace occasional imperfection: Allow room for some imperfection. It provides space for learning and growth, fostering a culture where taking risks is encouraged and mistakes are seen as learning opportunities.

  • Focus on the big picture: Don't get bogged down in the weeds. Prioritize what truly matters, delegate or eliminate less critical tasks, and avoid micromanaging.

  • Create a supportive environment: Foster open communication and psychological safety. This allows team members to feel comfortable sharing ideas, taking calculated risks, and learning from their mistakes.

By recognizing the limitations of blind pursuit of excellence and adopting a more flexible approach, we can create a more productive, innovative, and enjoyable work environment for everyone.

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