Why does the last 10% of projects always seem to take 90% of the time?
Why do we fear sharing our work with the world until it’s “just right”?
There’s always that one last “nice to have” thing that will push it over the “line” to being ready.
From my experience, the longer you drag the rollout of something the most risk of delay you are exposed to.
There’s just purely more time for something else to go wrong.
This is the common Waterfall vs Agile argument. These are two ways to approach a project. In summary: one long step-by-step linear process vs iterative cycles.
We can take business process specifics out of the debate (because many people don’t know about it and it’s not really the point).
It is more interesting to think about the effect of self-esteem (or the lack thereof) on making progress on our goals.
We will get a more interesting exploration.
The crux of the issue is here: We rate ourselves by the quality of our work, we see our work as an extension of the ‘self’.
It’s the same dynamic at play that makes people defensive when their work is critiqued.
We contain a multitude of tools, we use those tools to create things, those things get judged and we use transitive properties to say:
“Output = bad” …so… ”Tool that made it = bad”.
some caveman probably
Say you have a power drill, and you want to build a shelf.
If the shelves aren’t straight, it’s not a very good set of shelves. It doesn’t solve the problem you set out to solve. You put your mug on it and it slides off and smashes.
The drill could be top of the line, the best in the world, but wielded incorrectly it will not yield the desired results.
The shelves are not the drill. The drill is not you. They actually do not share properties at all. The same drill can be used by anyone.
In this analogy, your mind is the drill, a tool to be wielded by you; the user. You do not blame the drill when the shelves aren’t straight, you blame the process. So it’s the process that needs to be improved, not the person or the drill alone.
That should be liberating, saying that it is the way you did it that is broken and not you means you can do something about it.
It is the emergent effect of the person using the drill where the creation happens. The process is the interaction between them, not either part alone.
In fact, fixating on the person, and not how the person uses the tool, will be counter-productive.
The Conclusion of the Experiment
The conclusion here, is that we are not our work. The things we create with our tools are not a definition of our self, or our worth.
We are not our work.
I am not my work.
You are not your work.
A practical example
I write these words into an article, you read them, interpret them, derive a meaning based on your biases and past experiences.
It may not even be the exact meaning I meant, and even if it was: you deciding it’s not for you, or it’s incorrect, is not a reflection on my definition of self.
If I tried to write something that appealed to everyone, then no one would really love it.
Trying to be “everything for everyone” is the sure-fire way to end up “nothing for no-one”.
This applies to business and equally to relationships.
If I waited until I could ensure that everyone who read this resonated with it, I would never be able to click publish. There would be no content with which to resonate.
Furthermore, how would I know if people resonated with it? Until it is out in the world I cannot receive feedback and therefore cannot improve it (ideally) or judge it (if I really felt the need).
Perfection is the enemy of progress.
In the classic Lean Startup book they recommend that if you are not embarrassed to release your Minimum Viable Product then you have waited too long.
It’s about getting the nugget of the value out. That last 10% that holds you back for another month after you finish producing the core of whatever it is in a week is probably not worth it.
The worst part is we can enter into a Zeno’s Paradox of sorts.
A frog is crossing a river and jumps from the shore to a lily pad halfway to the other side. Then jumps half of the remaining distance, landing on another lily pad. Then half of the remaining distance after that etc… It will never make it to the other side. Always edging closer, but not arriving as the jumps get shorter and shorter.
This is just a thought experiment, because in reality, eventually the frog will reach the other side. When the jumps become smaller than the size of its body. More on Zeno’s Paradox for the curious.
How does this apply to us?
In a derivation of it, say there’s a tortoise in front of you, it is 100m away, walking directly away from you at half the speed you are walking towards it.
- You start walking towards it. It is walking away.
- You get to where it used to be, but it has now walked further away, to a spot X.
- You walk to spot X but it has moved to spot Y, which is 50% closer than X was, but still not where you are.
- You walk to Y but it’s at Z, a 50% gap again.
- You are gaining on it, but there’ll always be a distance between you, shrinking but not 0 (obviously at a certain point that distance becomes less than one of your steps so in reality you catch it).
The point of both of these exercises is that if you have sliding goals, or a moving tortoise that you’re trying to catch, it will take you far longer to complete the task.
In this exact thought experiment if you aimed to finish in 1 month, it’ll take 2. And that’s optimistic… what if you are walking towards that tortoise and you see an even cooler tortoise like 100m in front of it, now you go after that one.
Because you feel like you need the best tortoise possible!
Tortoises all the way down
The problem is, there are infinite tortoises.
If you’re building an app, writing a blog post, designing an icon. It can always be better.
Because better is subjective most of the time, you can try to cover most of the common likes and dislikes but if you are striving for ‘perfection’ you’ll just always be chasing that next tortoise.
A great strategy for this is setting a Definition of Done (DoD) at the very beginning. Concrete and specific. Be limited in your scope to ensure it’s rapidly achievable.
You have locked down the tortoise you’re going to chase, and there’s no room to stretch it out.
Don’t let the pursuit of perfection stop you from being good.
Because you must move through the valley of good to become great.