My day job brought me to the Georgia Aquarium, where Stephen Arthur, Head of U.S. Financial Services for Google, shared how his company tackles “the world’s biggest challenges.”
His presentation was for healthcare technology professionals, and I couldn’t help but see it through a gospel lens.
Two key principles stood out. They were not profound, but I found them extremely insightful.
I’ll share one this week, and another next week.
Pursuing Perfection is Perilous
The first is the idea that aiming for perfection can actually lower the quality of what I do.
Arthur shared an unbelievable story, first told by David Bayles and Ted Orland in their book Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking. I contacted the authors of that book, who both confirmed for me that the account they shared was indeed from an actual experiment and a real outcome. The story went something like this.
An art teacher began his first day of class dividing his students into two groups.
To the first group, he announced that their final grade would be based on the quantity of the body of work they produced during the class. As long as they created enough pieces, they would make an A in the class.
Aiming for perfection can actually lower the quality of what I do.
To the second group, he explained that their final grade would be determined by the quality of their work. A perfect grade was possible even by creating only one piece, as long as that piece was perfect.
The first group produced voluminous piles and stacks of art, while the second group studied, planned, and theorized over how to create their ultimate masterpiece.
And the highest quality pieces came from the group focused on producing the most, not the best, art.
Those who concentrated on theory didn’t make many mistakes, so they didn’t learn from their experience. Only those who did the work – and lots of it – were able to improve.
And Just How Is This Gospel-Related?
I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the challenges I’ve faced being an active, vocal witness to my neighbors. I shared how creating a habit of “flossing one tooth” helped me begin (again, and slowly) a journey toward regularly sharing with others the good news of salvation through Christ.
Until I started flossing one tooth, I had been paralyzed. The fear of not knowing what to say, of not having answers, of failing to deliver the perfect presentation – all of these limitations told me that I wasn’t done preparing. My one, single masterpiece presentation still needed work.
I wasn’t perfect. So I couldn’t start. I feared failure.
And when divine opportunities did present themselves, my responses had been – unsurprisingly – well, less than stellar.
It was that very pursuit of perfection that lowered the quality of my conversations.
What’s Different Now?
A weekly pattern of visiting neighbors has become my new focus on quantity. After only a few actual conversations, I’ve already noticed certain rough edges in the way that I speak or stand or present the message. And I’ve already been able to improve in those areas.
Has anyone come to Christ yet as a direct result of my efforts? I doubt it. (Though it’s possible someone may have read the tract in the packet I handed them.)
But I’m absolutely certain my waiting “until my delivery was perfect” didn’t have any potential impact for Christ.
My New Pursuit
No longer am I waiting for a perfect speech, a water-tight delivery, an answer to every objection.
Perfection is no longer my goal.
Have you been constantly delaying action because you need to get better first? Are you still analyzing your technique, afraid to make a move?
You’ll improve best by doing.