Why “Getting it Right” at First Isn’t Your Friend

How often have you delayed a product launch or a marketing campaign or an internal systems change because it wasn’t “just right”? If you’re like most business owners, entrepreneurs and/or service professionals your answer is, “More often than I want to admit!” Why is that?

On the one hand, this makes sense. If you release something that “isn’t quite ready for prime time” you’re in danger of alienating your customers, clients and prospects. After all, “You only have one chance to make a first impression,” right?

Absolutely. In fact, the phrase I used to use with my staff was, “The invitations shouldn’t go out until the excellence has been put in.” So, we worked overtime to make sure “everything” was “perfect” before ever launching anything. In other words, I clearly understand this line of reasoning.

However, over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that it is this kind of thinking that significantly hinders a massive amount of business growth. Why? Because one of the primary hindrances to growth is the pursuit of perfection. Or as Thomas Edison said so succinctly,

“No one ever became rich pursuing perfection.”

In other words, what drives real growth is action. At the end of the day, what you find behind most fast growth companies is a company with a bias for fast implementation. On the other hand, what you find behind most slow growth companies and organizations, is a bias toward slow implementation (often referred to as “analysis paralysis”). But what is it that drives analysis paralysis? Exactly. The desire to “get it right the first time.”

So, what’s a business owner, entrepreneur or service professional to do?

I. Look to Software Design and Lean Thinking

I don’t know if you’re in the world of software design or have studied it, but no software designer is held back by the pursuit of perfection. It’s not part of their mental set. Instead, they know up front that the program they’re creating will go through several revisions, beta tests, updates and bug fixes.

Using what’s known as Lean Thinking, they work to get out the first working version with the minimalist number of features so they can start testing it. They want to get the “prototype” out into the world so that real people can mess with it and they can get feedback about it.

Sometimes they find that their customers don’t even want the thing they’re creating. That’s good news. Why? Because then they don’t end up wasting years of their lives and millions of dollars creating something no one wants. Unfortunately, most small businesses do the opposite. They start with what they want to produce. Work on it until they think it’s perfect. Then they release it only to find out (at the end) that “no one” wants to buy it.

But for programmers, most of the time, they don’t discover no one wants what they’re creating, what they usually discover is that their customers use it in different ways than they thought they would. Or that their customers want different options than they thought their customers would want. Or they discover a bug in the code. Etc.

So, rather than being bogged down by perfection, what programmers do is they pursue what are known as


They create something in a minimalist format. Get it out. Get feedback. And then based on the feedback, make an iteration. Then they “rinse and repeat” over and over again until they have something they can release to a larger group of people with the phrase “Beta” on it. At which point they get more feedback and finally release v. 1. Then v. 1.1. Then v 1.2, etc.

In other words, the reason software programmers can move fast and get something into production quickly is because they know they’ll never “get it right” the first time. It’s not part of their psyche.

II. So What Does This Mean for You?

To help you apply this idea, here are a few questions you may want to start with.

1. How has the pursuit of perfection affected you personally? Is this one of your issues?
2. How has your own desire to “get it right” the first time affected your business?
3. How many products/services/experiences/processes/campaigns do you think have been held back by the desire to “get it right” the first time?
4. How do you think the pursuit of perfection has hindered your employees from taking action? And what part do you think you own in that?

Then, and this is key, I want you to take one project or marketing campaign that you’ve been holding back because it’s “not quite ready for prime time,” and think it through like a programmer.

  1. What’s the minimalist version of this you can get out to some early testers?
  2. Once you get some feedback, iterate (make changes)
  3. Get a beta test out to a larger group of people
  4. Use their feedback to make more iterations
  5. Get v. 1 out ASAP

In fact, if you didn’t read my post on half-time, make sure you do. This project/campaign that you’ve chosen would be a perfect time to practice it.

So what’s holding you back? Remember, “getting it right” the first time isn’t your friend. It’s your enemy.

To your accelerated success!

P.S. If you have some good examples of this—or have some insights into how you overcame your own perfectionism, make sure you leave some comments below (or click here >> if you’re reading this by email of RSS feed)