The Illusion of Perfection

Perfection. We all want it. Strive for it. Lust after it. Even demand it.

In the 2009 movie Avatar, the mining company in the film was obsessed with getting a rare mineral. Unobtainium. This was an old engineer joke that director and screenwriter James Cameron wove into the tale.

The same can be said for the perfection that we constantly seek in all things. It is unobtainable. But that doesn’t matter to some folks.

People literally freak out if what is in their mind’s eye doesn’t match up exactly with what is before them.

The Millimeter Example

I once had a customer pitch a gigantic fit because the left chest prints on their t-shirts they just received varied from the left or right, up or down by as much as five to eight millimeters.

That’s about the width of a pencil.

None of the shirts were misprinted, crooked, or in any other way problematic. It was simply that they were off to that slight degree. They used engineering calipers to compare shirt to shirt for the entire 200 shirt print run.

“None of these are even remotely the same!”, they said. They wanted a full refund.

After explaining and actually sending them a video of the handloading process on a press, they calmed down.

But the fact remained that the element of perfection in their mind did not match up with the reality of production. In case you are wondering this was for a plumbing company.

The “Designers” Example

Another great example is with designers from advertising or marketing agencies that don’t fully comprehend production.

How many times have you received the artwork for an embroidery order that has micro lettering? Or maybe a screen-printed design that is supposed to wrap around the bottom of the shirt? And let’s not forget the file that uses 27 spot colors.

Sure, there are ways we can produce these jobs…but not with the methods requested or the price quoted.

In their mind, the customer created something that was perfect. It was submitted and approved. The order and money were taken. The job was booked. Now, it’s up to the production team to wrestle it to the ground and make it work.

Good luck.

Solving Problems

Many people plan and scheme and develop new ways to get better. Have you ever lamented, “If we only had ______________________, then all of our problems would be solved.”

  • A redesigned website.
  • Two or three new employees.
  • A DTG printer.
  • An experienced professional in production running things.
  • A bigger shop space.
  • New leadership on our team.
  • More sales.
  • A different shop scheduling system.
  • Better ink.
  • More efficient processes.
  • Or, fill in your own example!

What you fail to realize is that when you solve one problem, another set of problems will come with the solution. That perfection you seek is an illusion because there is always something behind that new opportunity that is going to need attention.

It’s like the unseen prize for playing. You trade one set of problems for another. Except, most times you don’t know what is behind door number three until later.

Life Isn’t An Instagrammable Moment

I think the cause of a lot of challenges lately is that what we see “out there” has been categorically filtered, edited, and manufactured to appear to be as perfect as possible. As humans, we’re wired to buy into that.

Hell yes. Gimme. Gimme. Gimme. We always strive for better.

But, that plastic reality isn’t real. It isn’t authentic. In real life and business, things are messy. Dirty. Unfinished. Twenty minutes early or seven minutes late.

Sometimes you have to accept that the reality in front of you is the best that someone can do.

Maybe There Was A Mistake

The mistake could be that we didn’t do a good enough job explaining how the shirts were printed and loaded onto the press by an actual person and not a robot. The width of a pencil is actually widely acceptable in location placement from shirt to shirt usually.

Or what is achievable with our decoration process earlier in the sales discussion.

Maybe even discussing the downside of improving something or the consequences of what that might mean to other stakeholders in the company?

Yep. Nobody stopped to consider what might happen when you change something.

The Next Time You Think About Perfection

So the next time you think about perfection, and how something didn’t measure up, reconsider that just maybe:

  • You didn’t explain it well enough.
  • Nobody considered every variation.
  • There was information that wasn’t available at the time.
  • People fail. Mistakes happen. What will you do with that?
  • Someone needs more training.
  • You can’t predict the future.
  • Someone is doing the best that they can.
  • There are other factors involved that are not obvious.

Words of advice…take a chill pill. Talk about it for a minute.

Ask, “Help me understand what’s going on here?”

Nobody makes gigantic leaps with improvement instantly. It happens gradually, and usually with painful, sometimes expensive lessons.

Instead of talking about perfection, start talking about adjustment. What are you doing with the new information and data?

Are you learning?

Now, that’s perfection!


“Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.” – Vince Lombardi

“Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.” – Salvador Dali

“Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.” – Aristotle


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Marshall