Prototyping: the antidote to perfectionism

Marie Curie's notebook
Marie Curie’s notebook

The mind is a marvel.

The smarter we get and the more we educate ourselves, the wittier a part of our mind can become at defending and rationalizing our choices.

The perfectionist mentality traps us in fantasy. If we can recognize the traps, we can learn how to release them.

Michael fantasizes about leaping from his job and becoming a speaker on a subject he knows quite a bit about. But at his first consideration of what it takes to engage an audience and gain traction as a speaker, he realizes he knows nothing about public speaking and, hence, concludes, “I don’t have what it takes to be a speaker. I’m better off in this job.” 

Safe in fantasy. Safe in no-action.

The perfectionist mentality traps us in irrelevance: You’re writing a book. You learn some things about craft. You get obsessed with perfecting one chapter. For 9 months. Once you draft the rest of the book, that chapter is not even relevant.

Safe in perfecting irrelevancies.

The perfectionist mentality traps us in rationalizing inaction: A business artist is developing a new brand Story for an innovative business model. “How can I write copy for my people when I don’t yet know what they want or where they’ve been hanging out or how they’re going to find me?”

Safe in paralysis.

Perfectionism is an attempt to avoid making mistakes or appear in error. Perfectionism is not excellence. Perfectionism is not mastery. 

Can you remember the last time you heard a master musician you admire make a mistake? A master speaker or teacher make an error? Have you ever watched a painter in action and recalibrate from a “missed” stroke and turn that miss into a hit? Did you admonish them for that mistake? I doubt it. 

So, what makes you think your audience will rail against the imperfections of your artful program or your beta talk?

I’ll tell you what: The perfectionist mentality, which often is a defense against real action.

What’s the antidote? 

Prolific prototyping. 

Prolific prototyping involves scaling your dream to size. It involves wise failure. It involves taking public action to gather data. It involves actual marketing to gather data, learn, and recalibrate your actions accordingly.

When you catch yourself stalling in fantasy, irrelevance, or non-action, step back and ask with curiosity, “What simple action could I take to start gathering information instead of staying stuck in mind games?” “How could I create a smaller version of what I want to create to test the whole process?

Here’s the deal that I’ve discovered about my own perfectionism: When I put myself in a learner’s mindset, an apprentice’s heart set, then my little perfectionist quiets down. Why? The perfectionist thinks he knows it all – or should. My inner apprentice is cracked open with questions and curiosity. He’s dying to learn more by doing, experimenting, testing, and moving on. His lab’s a bit messy, but he’s at least released his traps. For now.



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