IMG_1325We have many paintings in our house – most by professional artists that we have picked up over the years from art galleries during our travels.  But there is one painting by that hangs in our living room which is not by a professional.  Depicting a set of iris flowers, it’s a water color that is both soft and vibrant – in short, it’s beautiful!

It was created while the artist was in high school.  It’s the only painting by the artist.  The artist never created another painting ever though the first attempt was beautiful.


Because it wasn’t perfect.

Many have looked at the painting and expressed admiration for its beautiful – but to the artist, it wasn’t perfect.   Therefore, any further attempts were dropped for other pursuits.

Winston Churchill, in his wilderness years, took up painting to pass the time.  Once when he was painting, a friend was watching him.  He was trying to carefully place the paint to faithfully reproduce the desired scene.  The friend grew inpatient and grabbed the paint brush and began to put paint on the canvas with bold strokes.  The result was not a perfect reproduction of the scene but was alive with color and intensity.  Churchill learned that being timid didn’t result in perfection but mediocrity.  And that paint could always be covered up with more paint.

Malcolm Gladwell has postulated that it takes 10,000 hours of practice before one can become proficient.  Richard Raffan, a world-class woodturner, produced approximately 22,000 bowls before he became famous.  Aristotle stated that perfection comes from habit – and habit comes from repetition.

Now, no one likes to show the world that they are anything less than perfect.  But growth comes from doing your best – again and again.  But it also requires that you learn what needs to be improved.  And that only comes from having the outside world look upon your creation and critiquing it.

And there’s a danger there because so many seek to tear down rather than build up.  Which is why it’s important to critically examine the critique while also seeking out those that seek to help.  Is the criticism something that can be acted on?  If so, then consider how the “customer” would react to the change.  Otherwise, smile nicely and move on – it doesn’t pay to spend time on the “lobsters.” (See Sheep, Wolves, Sheepdogs – and Mad Dogs for a discussion of the “lobster principle.”)

If you refuse to do something because you’re not perfect in doing it – get over yourself.  You’re holding yourself back from rewards that come from trying new things and persisting until you succeed.  And if you supervise people who let perfection stop them, don’t be a lobster.

A physicist by trade, author by choice, a born teacher, a retired veteran, and an adamant problem solver, Frank has helped the White House, federal agencies, military offices, historical museums, manufacturers, and over 250 technology startups get stuff done, communicate effectively, and find practical solutions that work for them. In his spare time, he makes sawdust and watches Godzilla movies.