Tip #6: Don't Wait for the Perfect Idea

This is part five of a nine part series on How to Accomplish Anything When You Don't Have Any Time.

Previously I addressed a mantra to stay focusedprioritizing only three things for actionstacking functionsavoiding time sinks, and outsourcing work. Today I'll talk about avoiding the notion of "the perfect" idea.

Don’t Wait for the Perfect Idea

Purpose: Increase kung fu and avoid procrastination

Gifford Pinchot often says “early learning beats better planning”, and in some ways, this is the entire mantra of the startup movement. Tech startups succeed so often because they excel at doing and learning from their doing, while big corporations excel at planning and never get started on the doing. When they finally do, their plans are out of date, or fail to adapt to changing information.

There’s an often-shared quote from Art & Fear: Observations On the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking
about the value of practice:

The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the "quantity" group: fifty pound of pots rated an "A", forty pounds a "B", and so on. Those being graded on "quality", however, needed to produce only one pot - albeit a perfect one - to get an "A".

Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the "quantity" group was busily churning out piles of work - and learning from their mistakes - the "quality" group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.

Jason Glaspey used to give a talk called Build Something, Build Anything. Jason, who has built multiple successful businesses from scratch, also emphasizes that every new project is a learning opportunity. He interviewed me a few months ago, and we discussed how I’d ping-ponged back and forth: Competing for the Netflix Prize taught me about recommendation engines, which led me to create a customer support recommendation engine at HP, a wishlist recommendation engine for Facebook, and finally led me to write a science-fiction novel in which recommendations engines lead to the first sentient computer software. 

If you were to judge it by personal financial success, competing for the Netflix Prize, the Facebook app, and the HP project were all failures, because none of them netted me anything. (OK, I drew a salary while at HP.) But they did lead to expanding my social network, new technical expertise, speaking opportunities at SXSW Interactive, freedom to pursue new projects at HP, and the idea to write a best-selling novel. 


Build something, build anything. Cultivate a maker mentality, and improve the quality of what you do.
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