Break Stuff! (a.k.a. Why Perfection Paralysis and Fear Are Killing Your Business)


Fear and perfection, I’ve found, often go hand-in-hand. It’s a crippling mindset, this idea that everything you do needs to be perfect. And it too often kills good businesses and people from becoming great.

Perhaps it’s due to the fact that with modern communication and technology we can be so quickly judged or shamed. The right tweet from the right person can make your company … and the wrong tweet from the wrong person can kill it.

But that’s generally not the way things work. To be frank, most of the time no one cares all that much about what you or your business is doing. At least not enough that it’s going to make or break you.

What will make or break you though is the inability to take action.

Today your success lies more in your ability to move quickly. To risk making mistakes. To break things along the way (and fix them later).

It’s not a philosophy of poor product nor of disregarding your customers. In fact, it’s actually quite the opposite.

While you’re toiling away in the back, paralyzed by the desire for perfection, your competition is still moving forward. They’re out there passing you by or disrupting your industry and stealing your customers.

(Or even worse, your customers themselves have stopped caring and moved on to something new.)

In our modern society of instant gratification, no one wants to wait – and unless what you’re doing requires perfection (like you’re doing heart surgery or building a passenger jet), you’re doing a disservice to your customers and your employees with every unnecessary minute you waste revising to perfection.

Too often I’ll be working with a client who claims they are keen to start seeing quick results. But then days, weeks or even months after I’ve presented them with some quick win strategic moves, they’re still busy “working on it.”

And guess what: by the time they’ve finished it, the opportunity has passed. Or at the very least, they’ve missed out in a dozen more opportunities while they were spinning their wheels.

The thing is, most of what you do today isn’t permanent. Unless you’re building and shipping a physical product, it can usually be modified later. And even if it is physical, it doesn’t mean it’s final.

That’s the whole concept of a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) in lean methodology – and it should be applied to much more than how you build products. It should be applied to how you run your marketing and your business.

The basic concept is this: it’s better to get something done and out there now than to try to build perfection and then release it when it’s ready.

By getting something out there early, you can learn from it. You can realize returns sooner. You are making meaningful progress toward your longer-term goals.

Because guess what? You can fix things as you go. If that ad campaign isn’t getting you results, kill it. Then look at the data to build a hypothesis as to “why” and iterate a new version.

Chances are you won’t get everything right all the time. People change, cultures change and technologies change. What you think is going to work today may not work in a month from now – so it’s better to get it out now, realize the returns and adjust your approach as you see behavior change.

Also, people are weird. Just ask Dan Ariely. As he’s found out in his research and written about extensively in his books like Predictably Irrational, people do really weird shit. They’re not going to always follow logic, and sometimes their emotions and psychology make no sense (until you dive deeper at least). The chances that your perfect plan is going to end up with perfect results are pretty much zilch.

Don’t believe me? Look at all the A/B tests you’ve run. If you’ve correctly predicted the winner every time, I’ll buy you a Coke. (Although I’d argue it’s more likely you got them right because you weren’t running meaningful tests.)

We’re not learning unless we’re able to observe – and we’re not able to observe unless we create an environment in which we can. And that means getting shit done and out there in the world, even if it’s not perfect.

You’re going to break things along the way. And that’s okay. That’s what the undo button is for. That’s why God invented software patches and the ability to manipulate the DOM.

As I’ve always told anyone I’ve worked with: It’s fine if you break something. Just know how to fix it and be sure you learned something from the “mistake.”

In fact, if you’re not breaking things you’re probably not trying hard enough.

But remember – this isn’t a call to be careless. You still need to work with purpose and clearly defined goals by which to determine success. And when you put out that first version, you’re not done – even if it looks like it works. Your MVP isn’t your final product – but it’s a version you get out there and iterate on until you’re ready to move on to something new.

All too often I’ll see companies use MVP and “urgency” as an excuse to do shoddy work. It absolutely isn’t. Instead it’s a mindset of continual learning and experimentation – one in which your business and your customer realizes more immediate returns on your work.

Lastly, if you do make a big mistake, you need to own it. Your customers aren’t your guinea pigs and you can’t take advantage of them or treat them like dirt. Don’t ship a product or release anything that you know is broken or that you yourself wouldn’t use. Have some kind of QA control. Have someone else proofread your copy.

But on the odd instance that something majorly bad does happen, own it, fix it, learn from it … and don’t let it happen again.

You should totally share this.

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