blog Productivity

Speed vs Perfection

If you are faced with a choice between attaining speed or honing your craft to perfection, what would you choose?

Those exposed to fanatic start-up culture of today would invariably pick speed or hustle over perfection.

Perfection is considered a futile pursuit. Something that slows you down and burns your chances of making definitive progress.

I developed a different perspective on perfection after reading Robert Greene’s Mastery.

Not that he directly advocates its pursuit, but it’s something that I gleaned from the book. If you haven’t read Mastery already, I recommend you do. It’s a dazzling book.

While I agree with most of Greene’s instructions and advice, there is one implied message that perplexes me.

The stories of all ancient and contemporary masters underline the importance of going through a long apprenticeship in the early phase of life.

After spending 7-10 years learning the ropes, the masters start incessantly practicing their craft. Putting the wood behind one arrow, you know.

The latter means spending an inordinate amount of time on your work. A roll towards perfection.

The Bone of Contention

Greene’s stance runs counter to what most modern-day gurus and entrepreneurs preach.

He throws his weight behind the tidy practitioners who slog it out daily to perfect their craft:

Take pleasure in the laborious research process, you enjoy the slow cooking of the idea, the organic growth that naturally takes shape over time. Embrace slowness as a virtue in itself

Robert Greene, Mastery

However, so loud is the crescendo around making progress at any cost that the pursuit of perfection sounds like a fool’s errand.

Article after article, speech after speech puts hustle above perfection. Hustle earns respect and talking about it certainly jacks up your status a notch or two.

Gary Vaynerchuk the ever-energetic influencer and speaker, who has perfected the art of hustle often contends in his talks, “People who strive for perfection get left behind in life.”

If Leonardo da Vinci, the human epitome of mastery, had mass-produced one painting after another, none of his works would have been labeled a masterpiece.

Robert Greene cites Vinci in his book and declares, “What if he had been more like the others, finishing his works as fast as possible? He could have done well, but he would not have been Leonardo da Vinci.”

Art of Perfection

A vast body of literature bolsters the perspective that Leonardo da Vinci was a procrastinator.

Self-doubt and his fixation with perfection often impeded his work. Oddly, his rejection rate of his own work was outrageously high. It won’t be wrong to say that da Vinci was the epitome of the maxim, ‘Quality takes time.’

In his lifetime Leonardo da Vinci produced no more than 25 paintings. These were among his total of 204 artworks. You’d be surprised that he spent 8 years perfecting ‘The Last Supper’ and ‘Mona Lisa’ – the two of his most famous masterpieces.

Michelangelo, another perfectionist and renaissance-era luminary and a rival of da Vinci finished 177 artworks during his lifetime.

The longevity of these artists’ work puts them in a league of their own.

The Adoration of the Magi, Speed vs Perfection
The Adoration of the Magi, an unfinished but highly acclaimed work. Photo credit: Leonardo da Vinci

Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his books ‘Antifragile‘ and ‘Skin in the Game‘ refers to the Lindy Effect, which simply means that the longer something has been around, the longer it is likely to stay around.

There is no doubt that both da Vinci and Michelangelo pass the Lindy test with ease. Their works have survived for more than 500 years and may survive for years to come.

Hustlers’ View

Perfection has got a bad rap for quite some time now. Hustlers and growth hackers call it the antithesis of innovation.

The proponents of hustle paradigm espouse the theory: learn fast and fail faster. This stands in total contrast to the aim of a perfectionist who expends tremendous energy in improving even the smallest aspect of his work.

Even Steve Jobs was something of a perfectionist. Who would otherwise take pains over ensuring that the insides of a computer also look beautiful?

These are two opposing perspectives and good brain fodder for you to chew on.

Personally, I find it hard to disagree with Robert Greene – since stories of all the ancient masters reinforce this point: work assiduously to achieve excellence in your work, even if it takes time.

What would you rather have? Speed or perfection. Please leave your comments in the box below.

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