A fear of failure.
A fear of spiders.
I suffer from both. The latter has gotten better with age through Discovery channel documentaries and self-induced exposure. The former, as I’ll explain, is a fear I still struggle with. There are far more opportunities for failure than encounters with spiders in my day-to-day life. The retainer I wear to sleep at night bears the wounds of projects that didn’t reach their full potential, and I have a folder on my desktop full of ideas I don’t think worthy enough to act on. It’s this desire to always succeed that’s got me to where I am today, so I can’t discredit it entirely, but I’m beginning to believe it’s also held me back.
In my mind, not failing means to doing it perfectly. Having the perfect idea, presenting it perfectly, executing it perfectly, then sitting back and seeing the client achieve the perfect result. Aiming high is great, but my idea of perfection has always been skewed.
As humans, we’re drawn to the imperfect as a reflection of our own nature. In art school we’re taught to learn the rules, then break them. The Japanese have the concept of wabi-sabi. Who do you root for in the story; the head cheerleader and the captain of the football team, or the shy girl and the nerdy boy? For brands, this notion has been used to great success. Intermarché sold heaps of ugly produce last year, inspiring Loblaws to follow suit this spring. Avis did it in the 60’s by proclaiming they were number two and Dove has used the strategy for over a decade to sell beauty products. Brands that recognize that perfection isn’t a logical pursuit can reap the reward of relevance, admiration, and loyalty. I’ve realigned my goals accordingly.
But how do we set out to create imperfect work? The real-time, instantaneous nature of culture today means we often don’t have time to over-analyze and worry ourselves over every little detail. So learn to worry about the important ones (hint: it still has to support the idea, so make sure you have one). But, to twist an old expression; if you have nothing good to say, am I telling you to say it anyway? Not necessarily. There’s a big difference between great imperfect work and sloppy work. It’s a line that runs parallel to the one between genius and insanity. Find it and be mindful as you walk it.
To arrive at that line is our first hurdle, you overcome it by redefining perfection. Work to break your routine, whether in the way you work or in the way you communicate. If your significant other is used to getting a kiss on the cheek when you arrive home, they’re going to expect that same kiss as part of your routine. Now routine can be good at times, but it can also leave your brand (or relationship) in a situation where competitors (or a new love interest) could leave you in the dust. So come home and instead of a kiss, put a spider on their cheek.
J/k. That may be over the line. Evaluate the essence of your action (in this case showing your affection for your partner), and take a risk by doing it differently. If you keep striving for perfection, you’re only ever going to give them a kiss on the cheek. Once you recognize that a sloppy make out is so much better, you’ll strive for imprefection every time.