In the past few months, every party I have gone to has had people talking about two TV shows. The first is one of my favorites, “Game of Thrones”. The other is “Breaking Bad”, which is amazing since I’m in London and it’s not even on British TV. It’s so good that the people have found it in DVDs and internet streaming. And amongst the complex plot, deep characters and science references to make MacGuyver jealous, there is something which everyone can apply to their work when developing innovative products: only accepting perfection is dangerous. Even deadly.

Breaking Bad. Copyright 2012 AMC

Avoiding spoilers, the story revolves around a chemistry teacher who supports his family by making Methamphetamine, a highly addictive and illegal drug. Using his knowledge of the chemical processes, on his first try he is able to produce it with 99.1% purity making it the purest, most valuable form available, and effectively destroying the market for all competitors. His “perfect process” is the real thing of value, which puts his life in danger but also saves it. What follows is money, greed, threats, suspense, violence, murder and all other things which make great TV.

Its amazing fiction. But so is central premise. Which is the assumption of achieving perfection on the first try. Or even achieving perfection at all. If you want to innovate or produce great creative work, here are two simple lessons:

  1. You will never be able to release anything that’s 100% perfect. It’s not possible as people will always disagree on changes or features and customers will react differently. It just needs to be good enough to really address the needs of the customers.
  2. In order to get to your new solution, you’ll need to experiment. Try, fail, learn and refine. Push it until it breaks, find out why it broke and build it again addressing that shortcoming. Breaking isn’t Bad, Breaking is Good.

Done is better than none

The most effective innovators all have a culture of experimentation linked with a culture of moving forward. There is a clear pathway to not only figure out regular improvements to current products and services, but also a longer term view of new initiatives. In order to assess the success of these changes, its best to experiment, break things, fail early and fail often, which ultimately reduces the likelihood of larger failures down the line and speeds up the process.

Similarly, for people who are striving towards perfection (which is more endemic in the Arts), it is vital to understand when something is close enough to its intended vision to be released onto the world. Until it is out there, either in the market or amongst society, it effectively does not exist and has no value. Done is better than none. Even the Mona Lisa has its flaws. And that’s one of the reasons people appreciate it so much

So go out there, look at what you’re currently offering, and break it down until you’ve found the exact things which will actually bring you rewards, and experiment until your customers say they’re good enough. And then treat yourself to a DVD of “Game of Thrones” or “Breaking Bad”. On some days, that’s close to perfection in my eyes.

How does your team agree on how close to perfection to aim for? Let us know in the comments below.

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