In Praise of the Pursuit of Perfection

September 10, 2012
124 Views

A university professor is responsible for implanting a key phrase in my mind; “Anything worth doing is worth doing right.”  However, too many products and services are shipped “as is” because they are “good enough” or that “no one will know the difference.” In an age of too much choice, that line of reasoning just won’t pass muster.

A university professor is responsible for implanting a key phrase in my mind; “Anything worth doing is worth doing right.”  However, too many products and services are shipped “as is” because they are “good enough” or that “no one will know the difference.” In an age of too much choice, that line of reasoning just won’t pass muster.

I have a bone to pick with Financial Times writer Lucy Kellaway.  In an article titled “Good Enough is Always Better than Perfection”, Kellaway argues in some tasks the pursuit of perfection isn’t warranted. For example, Kellaway takes issue with 85 year old sushi chef  Sukiyabashi Jiro who painstakingly labors over his creations. In his Tokyo subway sushi bar, Jiro serves only ten at a time and is noted to have some of the finest sushi on the planet according to Michelin guide

Kellaway claims that Jiro should not be celebrated. In fact, she says; “Jiro, or anyone else batty enough to aim for perfection in their work isn’t a force for good.”  Instead, Kellaway claims we should not aim to master a skill, especially those of low value such as sushi production. She instead argues; “There are too many other interesting or pleasurable or worthwhile things to be doing instead.”

On the whole, I understand Kellaway’s point. Sometimes the pursuit of perfection is maddening for those striving for it, much less those on the receiving end patiently waiting for such products or services. And certainly, such processes don’t usually scale, meaning that supply is usually very limited of such fine wares.

However, is there no place for extreme quality and/or beauty in a world of mass produced sameness? That each timepiece produced by Patek Philippe should not be handled by President Thierry Stern before it’s shipped? That there should be no pride in quality ingredients or production for Ali Yeganeh’s soups? That Steve Jobs should not have obsessed with those things unseen?

No, in fact, the opposite is true. In a world where consumers often get substandard and/or complicated products foisted upon them because they arguably don’t know any better, such an extreme focus on quality is more than welcome.  Consumers are hungry (literally) for the best product or service, and as I have stated elsewhere, most people are searching for the authentic and are willing to pay any price to get it.

This weekend, I visited a sandwich shop in my hometown of San Diego, California. In front of my own eyes, my sandwich was so shoddily assembled that I had almost wished they prepared it behind the scenes. The lack of attention to detail, much less sloppy processes left me pining for employees who would add some quality and artistry to preparing my meal.

One could easily argue that low-value goods (such as a sandwich) shouldn’t be subjected to rigorous quality standards or even a pursuit of perfection in its making. However, I disagree. The pursuit of the authentic means that it matters not whether it’s a sandwich, tea kettle, automobile, or software product that’s created. Anything worth doing is worth doing right.

Good enough often times is. However there will always be a place (and market) for those products and services that are scarce, special, valuable and purposeful in their design and production. And if the out-the-door lines for the latest iPhone release are any indication, consumers will stand for hours, waiting to get their hands on the pursuit of perfection.