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High Performance is about Excellence, not Perfection


High Performance is about Excellence, not Perfection

Perfection is an illusion. It exists only in our gloriously imperfect minds. The quest for perfection is a voyage destined to flounder in the stormy seas of disappointment. It is a barrier to continuous improvement, to innovation, to impact, and ultimately, to adding value. 

Nadia Comaneci became the first Olympic gymnast in history to register perfect tens from all judges at Montreal in 1976. She was so good that the electronic scoreboard of the time had not accounted for the possibility and didn't have appropriate digits to display it. Was she perfect? Were the five other women who achieved the same mark at different Olympics between then and 1992, also perfect? Well, under the code of points that the International Gymnastic Federation set at the time, a perfect ten or a score of 10,000 in a single routine, it was. And the reason was, that in their imperfect minds, the score was humanly impossible to attain, and therefore it had to be perfect. 

It needed six women over four different Olympics to open the minds of the wise old men (and women) at the federation, to the possibility that perfection might just be a moving target. In 2006, the code of points was changed. There are now different top scores, all greater than ten, for the various events, based upon difficulty and artistic merit; there is no consistent perfect score. Execution scores are still out of ten, so the theoretical possibility exists for a gymnast to get a partial "perfect ten" (for execution) in addition to whatever maximum number they get for difficulty. No such score has been awarded in decades.

Abhinav A. Bindra OLY is India's first Olympic Gold Medalist in an individual sport (he also happens to be a valued partner Two Roads is privileged to call upon to deliver his insights to our clients). In 2008, he shot his way to gold at Beijing. In his book, A Shot at History co-authored with Rohit Brijnath, this is what Bindra says about being perfect at the Olympics: 'At that precise two-hour period every four years, I have to be perfect. Or just more perfect than everyone else in the world.' 

In saying that, and in his preparation for that big moment, what Bindra had done was follow Kaizen, the Japanese method of continuous improvement. Zen philosophy does not believe in perfectness, what it believes however, is that continuously striving for ever greater levels of excellence, is the only way to be better. In Bindra's world, that quest for excellence is described as the only way to be 'more perfect than anyone else in the world'. 

During his long stint at the highest level of world cricket, Simon Taufel (another valued partner at Two Roads we are privileged to work with) was never obsessed with perfection. In his book Finding the Gaps, he asks this question: 'Perfection is not a human quality - so why do we demand it of ourselves or others?' Describing his frustrating early belief that an umpire needed to be prefect, he describes the greatest lesson he learnt that helped him become 5 times ICC Umpire of the Year and perhaps the most respected umpire of our times - 'we cannot be perfect, but we can be excellent.' It is a lesson Simon, and we at Two Roads, drive home to our clients all the time.

Let's always remember that the pursuit of excellence allows continuous improvement. When you get better, faster, sharper, you give rise to possibilities. If the best horse driven carriage was the most perfect vehicle on four wheels, Henry Ford would have had no buyers for the motor car. If the telegraph was the perfect mode of communication, the telephone would never have seen the light of day. If we had stopped at the telex machine, I wouldn't have been writing this on a Mac and publishing it at the click of a button so thousands of you could read it instantly. 

High Performance in business and in life is not about perfection. It is about taking chances, experimenting, making mistakes, falling, getting up more determined, innovating, and rising to ever greater heights on our continual quest for excellence. 

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