Perfectly Perfect

Question: I’m striving to achieve Six Sigma in my business but I’m getting a lot of internal resistance. What can I do to convince my team that this should be our ultimate goal?

Answer: Maybe it shouldn’t be the ultimate goal. Six Sigma is an admirable concept, but only in certain situations. It was developed by Motorola as a manufacturing process in 1985 with an end result of 99.99966% defect-free products. I can remember the business world was abuzz with this revolutionary idea – everyone was trying to apply it to their own company, regardless of what that company did. In essence, everyone was trying to achieve near-total perfection.

Should perfectionism truly be our goal? It depends. If you are a heart surgeon, Six Sigma is for you – in fact, your work should be 100% defect-free. If you’re a banker transferring money in or out of my bank account, 99.99966% correct ain’t good enough – you need to be absolutely perfect with the transfer! As entrepreneurs we’ve grown up with the belief that everything needs to be 100% perfect.

I have changed my mind on this as the years have passed. No longer do I believe without question that everything deserves total perfection. Why the change of heart? I know you’ve heard of something called “diminishing returns.” As entrepreneurs we must deliver top quality with our products and services. But in a great many situations something less than 100% perfection is just fine with our customers or clients. They may be ecstatic if we deliver 80% or 90% perfect. The cost to get to 100% may be extraordinarily high and eat into our profit margins when we set this as our goal. And if our competition is delivering 75%; we deliver 80% and our customers are thrilled, what’s the point in achieving total perfection?

You might say that I’ve relaxed my standards. But as entrepreneurs we need to find a healthy balance between what needs to be perfect and what doesn’t. Blindly striving to make everything 100% when 80% is good enough, may not be a good deployment of resources. There’s a parallel to this in our personal lives. Are we trying so hard to be perfect in so many areas that we’re wasting our lives on things that really don’t matter? Does the Christmas video really need to be defect-free? So what if there is a weed or two in the front lawn (especially if the only person who notices is you). Is the world going to come to an end if we miss the high note while singing in the church choir on Sunday morning?

A slight imperfection here or there makes life more real. This doesn’t give us license not to try and achieve a flawless outcome. But learning when it matters and when it doesn’t is a sign of wisdom.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

Arrows in a bullseye

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