Editor’s Note: Sam Bayer is the founder and recently retired CEO of Corevist, a Durham-based bootstrapped software company launched in 2008. Bayer launched his career in 1980 working for IBM, which he left when he founded his first entrepreneurial endeavor Axiom Systems in 1987. Axiom would eventually be taken public through an initial public offering. Bayer notes that his entire 42-year professional career was guided by his determination to negotiate win-win value with his customers and fueled by his thirst for knowledge and scientific approach to problem solving. Now, he will be recounting his entrepreneurial leadership experiences in his “Stories at Work” series for WRAL TechWire. You can also follow Bayer on instagram @sam.bayer and at email@example.com any feedback about this series.
His blogs are the latest addition to our Startup Monday package. Note to readers: WRAL TechWire would like to hear from you about views expressed by our contributors. Please send email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
DURHAM – I used to have a love-hate relationship with perfection.
I loved it because it provided a target to aim for. I hated it because perfection was unachievable. Coming up short always left me feeling defeated.
I could never run, kick, ride, learn, or think fast enough.
I always drank, smoked, ate, and procrastinated a bit too much.
I was jealous of people who accomplished, possessed, experienced, and knew more than I did.
And then I discovered the truth.
“Perfection is the enemy of the good.” Voltaire circa 1770.
The truth is we’re not meant to achieve perfection.
Certainly not someone else’s definition of perfection.
Strive for it? Yes.
Achieve it? Never.
Learn from the journey? Always.
Celebrate along the way? Oh yeah!
I absorbed this wisdom shortly after moving into my first home as a young cash strapped newlywed in Wappingers Falls, NY. in the early 1980s.
We purchased a ranch style home with an unfinished and unloved basement. Stairs from the main floor led down to the basement and ended on a raised landing splitting the basement in half.
To the left was a family room with a lot of potential. The old brick fireplace was yearning to be lit and a terrarium in a bay window showed signs of its lush green past. To the right of the stairwell, through a door, was a dark utility room with a furnace, water softener and washer/dryer on the periphery.
The space was begging to have kids toys strewn about. We had a sense of urgency to remodel the rooms since we were expecting our second child and the upstairs was starting to feel a little cramped.
I spent months coming up with designs, buying the tools and materials, and developing the skills to do a number of projects, including learning how to frame walls, put up sheetrock, lay tile and carpet, put up decorative cedar paneling and install light fixtures.
Having started the project with zero construction experience, I was quite proud of what I was able to accomplish. Except for… that one corner of the herringboned cedar paneled wall surrounding the fireplace, which didn’t quite finish the way it did in the magazine that inspired it.
I saw the imperfection every time I walked into the room. Funny thing was, no one else ever noticed it. Or if they did, they never said anything about it and it certainly never got in the way of the family enjoying the room.
Perfection is okay to pursue, and definitely okay not to attain
That project taught me it’s OK to pursue perfection, but it’s also OK not to attain it. But the results do need to be fit for purpose. My defects couldn’t have been in the electrical wiring or the lock on the door that kept the kids away from the furnace.
Over time, that ill-fitting corner transitioned from a monument of imperfection to my signature of authenticity. Every time I entered that room and glanced at the “defective” corner, my heart sang knowing this basement was transformed with my own two hands, and I was quite proud of it just the way it was.
While running the startup I founded, Corevist, I refereed the battle between perfection and the good on many occasions:
- Clients refused to host an initial customer focus group until 100% of all their promised features were demonstrable and there were zero defects outstanding.
- Developers wouldn’t launch a feature with any known embedded simplifications.
- Financial analysts insisted on creating a model handling 5 years worth of detailed projections before launching one that could handle two.
- Marketing was compelled to build an infrastructure to support a $100M sales pipeline when we would have been ecstatic to generate a smaller, but higher quality, $10M backlog.
Be okay with enough
When perfection wins, businesses lose.
They miss out on providing value.
They miss out on learning opportunities.
They miss out on momentum building celebrations.
They increase their costs and miss out on revenue.
It takes personal courage, and a supportive organizational culture, to embrace good’s battle with perfection. As Voltaire sought to teach us, perfection isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Maybe it’s time we were just okay with good.