Good Habits #20: Forget Perfection

By | February 13, 2016

[February 13, 2016]  Having worked with military and civilian engineers nearly all my life, I can attest to the fact that perfection is one of their most important goals.  Getting any calculation wrong can mean the difference in project failure or success … and that means a lot.  Once I finished my first year in combat with military engineers, this seemed no longer to apply.  Their new mantra: forget perfection.

When in combat a soldier no longer has the luxury of time to get things exactly right.  Time is an enemy and the more time that can be saved through proven shortcuts, the better.  We never had the time to get things just like we wanted.  Once I was given the mission to build housing, office space, and communication nodes for over 5,000 soldiers and was given six weeks to get it all done.  That same day, our bulldozers were leveling the ground while I and the commander drew up plans on the hood of a Humvee.

The running joke in Iraq for U.S. Army engineers was “how would you like your project done?  Fast … Good … or Cheap … pick two” and “here [in Iraq] you can only pick one and maybe you won’t get that.”  A good example is when we put a tactical float bridge across one of the Iraqi rivers while under mortar fire from a group of insurgents.  We didn’t prepare the bridge like the manual says but we got it done and done fast.

Too many people have a psychological hang-up on getting things to perfection.  When you live in an environment where that’s not possible, like in combat, you learn to adapt or you go crazy.  I had to send several engineers home early because they couldn’t grasp the fact that we operated at a much higher pace and actually didn’t do things exactly by the book.  Once I had a 20 ton D7 fully armored bulldozer operator ask for a mine-clearance team to clear out anti-personnel mines.  We laughed and told him to simply drive over them.

Perfection is unachievable.  By teaching people to let go of that ideal, they can get on with their lives.  Like the D7 dozer operator who was halted by a few mines, he was able to continue with his job and we were able to build housing for several thousand troops in less than six weeks. For those who demand perfection, they rarely get things done.  Procrastination is a common trait of perfectionist.  Holding onto perfection, and not watching your six, will get you killed.

Forget perfection.  Get the job done safely.  Live your life without perfection and everyone will be better off for it.

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Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.